My personal Instagram account celebrates “Lost Formats”. I have shared photos of wire recorders, cylinder records, Betamax videos, and stereoscopes. I once shared a picture of my CD collection calling those shiny discs a “Lost Format”, and I was only half joking. Having moved almost a billion units domestically in 2000, only 31 million CDs were sold in the US in 2022. Following the classic 80/20 rule we would expect to find 2.8 million Americans buying 25 million CDs and fewer than 400 thousand others buying one or two. If that is accurate less than 1% of the population purchased a CD in 2022.
Your average person under 35 has never bought a single CD, many have never purchased a whole album, even digitally. They do not own music, they stream it as needed. Separate them from an internet connection and they have nothing to listen to. If younger millennials own any physical media it was inherited from parents or siblings or is part of a vinyl hobby acquired in adulthood. Walmart has a section for new LPs after all, but no CDs. Many teenagers, Gen Z, don’t even own a stereo. They use a phone, computer, or TV for streaming music.
Bearing the distinction of being the last physical audio medium a Compact Disc is essentially a memory card for transferring digital audio files between machines that was made redundant by broadband internet and Bluetooth. Their remaining importance as a medium is the album notes and art that frequently accompany them. We tend to cover physical CDs that come with forty or even eighty pages of notes exploring a topic in depth. This is information that often you will not find anywhere else, and even if you were to download a PDF of the notes with a digital version of the album would you actually read them that way?
It is the album notes that make certain albums worth physically owning, and the prospect that people will want to pay for and own the collective efforts that went into producing them is why these albums are still being made. No replacement format for this type of album seems to be coming. Aside from the economic incentives not working, the same creations in a digital only format will not be engaged with by the listener in the way they are intended.
I fear that if we lose CDs as a medium the tradition of in-depth information accompanying the release of an album goes away with them. I come across Bandcamp pages where even the personnel on an album is unavailable. Does music need written accompaniment? No. Can it be enhanced by it? Certainly. As a Syncopated Times reader, you are very likely to be among that 1% still buying CDs. All I am saying is, keep it up! Support these wonderful projects and encourage labels like Archeophone, Rivermont, and Turtle Bay to release more of them. For what it is worth, if you have good equipment a CD still outperforms any digital format you might plug into it.