After languishing in his car boot for several years, Jordan Bassett’s CD collection – mostly dating back to his teenage years – will soon be on proud display in his newly converted home office space.
Bassett, a commissioning editor at the NME, has no means of playing the CDs and, in any case, his musical tastes have moved on. But the 100-150 thin, shiny 5in discs have sentimental value – and, who he knows, one day they may be part of a revival similar to vinyl among music aficionados.
Although the decision by Tesco this week to clear its shelves of CDs was an unambiguous indication of the decline of the once-revolutionary music format, it’s not dead yet.
Last year, UK sales of physical entertainment products fell 18.5% to just over £1bn, while digital revenues rose by 8.3% to £8.7bn, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association.
In 2007, at the height of the CD market, more than 2bn discs were sold globally. The digital streaming platform Spotify launched in 2008, and CD sales started their trajectory downwards.
But towards the end of last year, there was a blip on the graph. CD salt rose by 15%mainly thanks to Adele’s 30, which sold nearly 900,000 in CD form, Abba’s Voyage and Ed Sheeran’s =.
in to love letter to CDs published in Rolling Stone last month, Rob Sheffield wrote: “Compact discs were never about romance – they were about function. They just worked. They were less glamorous than vinyl, less cool, less tactile, less sexy, less magical. They didn’t have the aura that we fans crave.
“You didn’t necessarily get sentimental over your CDs, the way you fetishized your scratchy old vinyl, hearing your life story etched into the nicks and crackles…. But CDs work. They just do. You pop in the disc, press play, music booms out. They delivered the grooves so efficiently, they became the most popular format ever.”
He lauded CD “boxsets, bootlegs, mixes from friends old and new, young bands whose albums I buy from the merch table at live shows”, and lamented the ephemeral nature of streaming culture.
A recent article in Wired magazine also praised the CD format, and its “ridiculous affordability”. Streaming was for the masses, vinyl was for hipsters, said the author, but his experiment in CD listening had brought “unexpected joys”.
Despite the convenience of streaming music at the touch of a keypad, some fans prefer to have tangible collections, complete with liner notes, to pore over, arrange and rearrange.
And, as Adele pointed out to Spotify when threatening to pull her latest album from the platform unless it hid the shuffle button, “our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended”.
Bassett said: “We may be seeing the end of CDs as a mass-market product, but we could also be seeing the beginning of the repositioning of the CD as a more fetishistic item.”
But, he added, it was unlikely to match the vinyl revival of recent years. “There is not the same romance, the magic of dropping a needle on to vinyl. The plastic cases cracked easily. I remember listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on the school bus and every time that the bus went over a bump, your CD would skip.”
Sean Jackson of Reckless Records in Soho, which has been in business for almost 40 years, said some customers insisted that the quality of analogue sound was superior to digital. “But unless you’re really concentrating, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference,” he added.
“There’s a market for everything – vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes. Formats go in and out of fashion, but music doesn’t.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism