Released on CD in May , the hit album became a musical mainstay, and vinyl fans and audiophiles began to purchase CD players in droves to adopt the growing format. By , CD sales eclipsed vinyl, and overtook the cassette in But perhaps just as memorable was the packaging in which it arrived.
Comprising six-inch by inch casings of cardboard and plastic, the so-called longbox packaging was several times bigger than necessary. The design was, in part, an effort to make it easier to flip through discs on shelving units designed for LPs, but it was also aimed at theft prevention. Longbox packaging was estimated to be responsible for creating Eventually, the keepers would go away and leave only the cellophane-wrapped jewel cases we think of today with magnetized security sticker attached.
As the first readily available way to share digital music without actually paying for it , the CD-R was in many ways a steppingstone to the end of CD dominance. Sure, you had to spool through dozens of artists while idling your car to find the tune you were after, but suddenly music was free, and it was almost everywhere.
In , just as millennials and the internet itself were coming of age, Napster hit the web and changed the world forever. Allowing a network of global users to easily share music files, the site boomed as the Recording Industry Association of America RIAA and other major industry organizations scrambled to catch up and fetch their high-dollar lawyers.
At its height, Napster hosted around 80 million users , and paved the way for other peer-to-peer sites like LimeWire, uTorrent, and many more. While Napster was eventually shuttered in , the genie was out of the bottle, so to speak, and the piles of cash that CD sales had hauled in began to slowly but surely fade away. Perhaps just as striking, iTunes sales became a musical powerhouse for Apple, engorging its coffers and changing the way people purchased music — for those who still did pay for it.
In , iTunes outpaced CD sales in two major physical stores for the first time. If bootleg discs flood the market they kill sales, no question about it. Bootleg CDs were a danger the industry could get its head around — you could hold one in your hand. Two, the studio engineers hated the way the MP3 sounded and refused to engage with it. A lot of artists hated the way it sounded, too. Rougvie suggests a third reason: fierce resistance from retailers who, understandably, considered the MP3 an existential threat.
Just like their predecessors in Greece in , 90s executives were too busy worrying about the next quarter to consider the next decade. How can you do that? Once you made a CD with ones and zeroes it was only a matter of time before that was converted into something that was easily transferable. The fall of the CD, like its rise, began slowly. When file-sharing first took off with Napster in and , CD sales continued to ascend, reaching an all-time peak of 2.
So the market remained steady, artificially buoyed by aggressive discounting. It was the launch of the iPod, an aspirational premium product which made MP3s portable, that turned the tide.
It could get cracked or lost, whereas MP3 files lasted. The compact disc has proved surprisingly tenacious. It still dominates markets such as Japan, Germany and South Africa; it makes for a better Christmas present than an iTunes voucher; and it has some hardcore enthusiasts.
Jeff Rougvie is even planning to set up a boutique CD label to reissue rare and out-of-print albums. It will go obsolete like the floppy disc did. Rob Campkin recently opened a record shop in Cambridge called Lost in Vinyl. He only stocks a handful of the discs that were once the most lucrative product in the history of music.
How the compact disc lost its shine. The compact disc, Dorian Lynskey. Thu 28 May An album in 12 different formats: Trevor Jackson mines audio history. Read more. Vinyl revival: is it back for good? Taken at face value, these statistics seem to indicate that the days of actually owning music physically or digitally as opposed to enjoying through a streaming service are numbered.
However, these doom-and-gloom proclamations can feel like self-fulfilling prophecies. Discussions about how the CD is dying pop up on a regular basis in a way similar to how all those articles about rock 'n' roll's death remain popular.
Indeed, many stories act as though CDs are already extinct. Technology trends aren't helping this suspicion. Good luck finding a laptop with a built-in CD drive. Cars are also trending in that direction. Of course, the idea that technology and marketing affect how we listen to music is hardly new. Formats have cycled in and out of popularity with the introduction of cool accessories — the Walkman, boom boxes, the Discman, iPod. For its part, the compact disc's futuristic sheen was what originally bolstered its cachet in the '80s.
Still, the CD market also came with its own sneaky pressure — namely, that music fans were encouraged to re-buy albums they already owned on LP or cassette, due to the supposedly better-quality sound. When you don't have a machine to play CDs, it follows you would buy fewer CDs.
But in contemporary times, it's not a stretch to wonder if companies are responding to consumer demand when they eliminate CD players, or is this another example of corporations shaping consumer habits and hastening the format's demise, for financial gain?
After all, CD or DVD drives are still useful and needed for plenty of work purposes, and people now have to purchase them separately. In , The Verge pointed out that Apple's controversial removal of its headphone jack on newer iPhones helped the company's bottom line.
It's easy to see something similar happening here. Compared to two decades ago, when CDs were at peak popularity, of course 's sales statistics look anemic. But the compact disc is still the most popular format for people purchasing records. The second-most-popular format, with
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