I’ve been blessed to be able to grow up in a world where we still had record stores. It was a place where you had to search through crates for new music based mostly off of the album art on the vinyl sleeves, cassette tape covers, or CD books with little promotion for the album. Back then you couldn’t listen to music on the internet before you bought an album. The internet wasn’t even half of what it is today. Even in the 2000s, it would take a day to download an album on dial-up.
So when I heard that CDs were just about to be as obsolete and become more of a collectible like vinyl I had a reality check. Times have definitely changed since I was younger and everything is now being accessed from a cloud.
I didn’t start buying CDs until I was in middle school. Cassette tapes were still the main medium that people used to listen to music even though CDs were also around. At the time, CDs were like how MP3 players were when they first came out in the mid-2000s. Not everyone had them or were willing to convert to them because of their investment into CDs. Around 2004 the popularity of CDs skyrocketed with the invention of the CD burners for personal computers giving people the ability to burn their own music, boosting the sells of bootlegged albums and mixed CDs becoming a huge threat to the music industry along with file sharing (music downloads).
Music Downloads & File Sharing
With the internet becoming more of a place where you could socialize along with gathering and downloading information people began to find ways to get things for free. This is when the creation of file sharing programs such as Napster, Kazza, and Limewire came to be.
These programs were used mostly to download shared music files which were then used to listen to music on computers or burned into CDs to listen to. Music wasn’t the only thing that was downloaded and copied info CDs to sell, but it was the most popular of the files.
With these programs and people downloading music creating a black market for people to get music, the music industry had to find ways to stop this from continuing and to convince people to buy from the stores again. One way they combated this was with the RIAA shutting down some of the programs and sites. Another was to give the customer more for their buck in the stores.
Album Release Days
Before the industry changed its music release day to Friday it was on Tuesdays here in the US. Back then instead of being able to buy albums at midnight like we do now, you had to wait until 9:30am when the stores opened to buy a physical copy. Most people went Target or Best Buy to get their copies. These days actually became more of an event over time.
Due to the arrival of music downloads and the ability to easily bootleg albums the record industries had to place more emphasis on their release dates and how they promote and package their albums.
Most labels lowered their price points to $9.99 an album instead of $15. Some labels also created unique packagings like Taylor Swift’s 1989 album which came in a sleeve with a pocket full of Polaroids or Micheal Jackson’s Dangerous collector’s edition and it’s pop up artwork
The Decline of CDs
As we moved into 2008 the RIAA and government began to aggressively shut down illegal downloads and online music stores began to grow more popular. This movement wasn’t a good thing to help physical sales, but it opened the doors for the industry to capitalize on some of the money they were losing with illegal downloads.
In 2008 Spotify came on the scene giving us our first look at the future of how we will be listening to music. By acquiring licensing deals with the four biggest major labels along with some independent labels, Spotify was able to give its subscribers unlimited access to catalogs of music, with the opportunity to create and share playlists with other users. It was the first of the major streaming services we have today and set the bar on how we will be listening to music today.
By 2014 the majority of the music was now beginning to be streamed online or downloaded onto devices, especially cell phones. With each new innovation in quickly allowing fans to get access to music with ease, CD sales continued to decline.
This wasn’t just felt in the music industry, but in the software, movie, and video game communities as well. Everything now is seemingly becoming easier to get access to with streaming services and cloud access.
It seems like the end is near for CDs, especially for the biggest retailer in CDs as Billboard reports that Best Buy will be pulling them from their shelves on July 1st. Meanwhile, Target will be pressuring record companies to so consignment-based deals to shift the inventory risk it has for unsold CDs. It makes sense to pull CDs from the store shelves since streaming music is continuing to dominate the music consumption. It’s just a thing that people don’t need anymore. It was nice and very useful while it lasted but like all things, it must come to an end.