The Death of the CD: How Opting Out of CD Sales May Effect a Musician’s Career


by Stephanie L. Carlin

Back in 2008, The New York Times reported a funeral in Midtown of New York state. This funeral was not for a person. It was for an item that was previously very familiar: the cassette tape. A cassette tape made with a polyester-like plastic film that, using magnetics, processes sound through a machine and is then packaged in a plastic 10-by-10 centimeter container. Interestingly enough, it is considered the greenest form of music consumption, according to an IBM Research facility in Zurich, Switzerland, but due to latency issues and growing technology, it went out of style by the mid-2000s, replaced by compact discs (CDs) .

While the popularity of cassette tapes has grown in recent years, due to nostalgia and movie franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy, the National Audio Company (the only company that makes cassette tapes in the U.S.), reported $5 million in profit in 2017 while CD sales were $84.7 million. Interestingly, though, that is an 88% decrease for CDs from the $800 million made in 2001.

More and more stores are opting out of CDs. In January, Best Buy announced that it would no longer sell physical CDs on their shelves by July 1. They were previously a big vendor for compact discs, making up to $40 million in profit on average and contributing to 11% of the U.S. CD sales. Target is in talks with its suppliers demanding something more marketable, otherwise it will use a scan-based system. In recent years, car companies have almost completely stopped putting CD players in cars and Apple famously stopped including a CD drive into their Macbook products in favor of an external drive.

The reason for this decline in CDs has been speculated, but most critics  point to internet subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music as primary suspects. These Internet-based systems are not necessarily ideal for the up-in-coming artist. As we have covered before, reviewing  the statistics of Spotify and Apple Music, revenue from using these platforms alone may not even make up a month’s worth of groceries, and some of these companies have a vetting process to get onto the platform as an artist. In order to make ends meet, most artists need physical items like CDs to sell at concerts.

There is something to be said about a physical copy of music. Data can be taken in a second by anyone with access to a computer, even if they didn’t pay for it. Data can be erased easily. Data can make listening to something a little better, but who does it belong to? Whether it’s vinyl or a cassette tape or a CD, consumers purchase these items for something tangible to show that they are fans of the artist’s work. The artist has an opportunity to do cool liner notes, cover art, and a thank you letter without someone having to look at a screen to read it. The money goes to the artists directly with no gimmicks or weird loopholes. Although there are very few places left that sell CDs, it may be an investment worth making for the up-and-coming artist, in addition to making music available on more accessible platforms and services.

What was your first CD? Let us know in the comments!