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Saturday Deluxe: Format Wars

SDE editor Paul Sinclair explores the BPI’s latest report into UK music consumption in 2019

Last week in the SDE Newsletter (subscribe here!) I wrote an exclusive editorial entitled ‘format wars’ which articulated my views on the so-called ‘vinyl revival’ and particularly the marginalisation of the CD format in mainstream music media. This gathered quite a bit of interest and comment, so I’m publishing it here on SDE in an expanded (but not remastered!) version, with some ‘bonus’ thoughts.

I want to make it clear that not only do I like vinyl, but I own thousands of vinyl records. I know there are some great things about vinyl but I’m also a big fan of the CD format and it pains me to see the industry adopting a rather laissez-faire attitude when it comes to promoting and to some extent protecting the format from what they seem to view as inevitable decline. So, without further ado, read the piece below. Figures are from the British Phonographic Industry’s (BPI) report from the beginning of this year. All data quoted is from the Official Charts Company.


Were you aware that 4.3m vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2019? Sounds impressive, but in the same period 23.5m CDs were also bought by music fans.

Not that you’d really know it. Music media seems obsessed in bending the narrative – and bending the knee – to the perceived ‘king’ of formats: VINYL. The coverage is such that unless you have access to the data, you’d presume – in sales terms – that vinyl and CDs were neck and neck, or even that vinyl was ahead. Whereas actually, the reality is that CDs still sell more than five times as many units as vinyl records, in the UK.

If you think I’m a paranoid CD fanboy imagining this, then below are are few examples:

• In October last year, UK radio station Classic FM ran a story with the headline “Vinyl records to outsell CDs in 2019 for the first time in 40 years“. If you read the article there are no facts (or even trends) to back this up. It’s simply not true. And just to add a bit of extra absurdity to the various assertions, the same article claims that it’s easy to see why people are moving to “sturdy” vinyl because CDs get “easily scratched”!

• Here’s another one. This month The Quietus reported that “Vinyl Sales Continued Their Ascent” in 2020, suggesting that vinyl would soon be atop some kind of sales ‘summit’. King of the castle. The truth – as the BPI’s latest figures show – is that 74 percent of music consumption in the UK is now via streaming, with 18 percent from physical album sales. That 18 percent equates to 28m physical albums sold in the UK, of which – wait for it – just 4.3m were vinyl. Around 15 percent of the total. CDs have 84 percent of that market. Despite the downward sales trend, even in their report, the BPI said that the CD was “resilient”. In terms of all album consumption, streaming comes first with ‘streaming equivalent albums’ numbering 114.2m, CDs next with 23.5m albums physically sold and then vinyl with 4.3m. But The Quietus assure us that vinyl continues its ‘ascent’!?

• One can’t blame The Vinyl Factory for promoting vinyl and not bigging up CDs, but at least get the facts right. They tweetedVinyl sales hit record growth in 2019‘ which is very misleading. Vinyl sales in 2018 were 4.2m units. Last year 4.3m units were sold. The growth figures are actually a modest – 4.1 percent year-on-year. Between 2015 and 2016 the growth figures were over 50 percent, so ‘growth’ has dropped dramatically. More bending of the knee/narrative.

Let’s not be coy, CD sales dropped by 26.5 percent last year, which is clearly a very big fall, but it’s frustrating, because sometimes it seems as if record labels have accepted the CD is doomed and there is nothing they can do about it.

One thing they could do is to actually release music on CD when there is an opportunity! After issuing the vinyl package in 2018, Universal Music took a whole year to issue the Police Every Move You Make box set on CD, Sony didn’t bother to release the last Bruce Springsteen remasters on CD (or the new ones) and last year’s Prefab Sprout reissues weren’t issued on compact disc either! BMG were virtually shamed into putting the 2018 Yazoo Four Pieces vinyl box out on CD in 2018, after initially announcing it was vinyl-only (fans complained bitterly on SDE and they relented) and back in 2017, Paul McCartney infamously wouldn’t include a fourth CD in his £130 Flowers in the Dirt box set, preferring to deliver this content via digital download! What is going on? The initiative known as Record Store Day, which is designed to help independent record shops prosper, virtually ignores CDs as well. Last week, when a twitter debate ensued after the SDE newsletter editorial, the official Record Store Day twitter feed tried to defend this saying they “work on a lot of CD-only projects”. Really? News to me! They also betray their favouritism to vinyl saying “the most ‘exciting’ format dominates.” Hmm.

What I find most frustrating is that the lack of proactivity. The CD made the industry BILLIONS and now that same industry has become the most fair-weather of friends. What measures are being implemented to stop or slow the natural decline? Seen any marketing campaigns recently promoting the benefits of CDs? Me neither. Meanwhile labels are ploughing time and effort into producing and marketing cassette tapes of which 80,000 were sold last year (mainly as trinkets in bundles, it has to be said).

Here’s something to consider. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 he realised that the operating system and hardware – in fact the entire Apple business – was doomed if Microsoft stopped supporting the Apple OS, with their Office suite of applications. He recognised this threat and took action, negotiating a deal with Bill Gates for a five-year commitment from Microsoft to release Microsoft Office for Macintosh.

I’m not unaware of the irony of referring to Steve Jobs, whose iPod and iTunes Music store had a terrible impact on physical music sales in the early 2000s, but you have to ask where were the visionaries in the music industry five to ten years ago who recognised the threat from car manufacturers to the CD format, as they sought to do away with CD players and switch to bluetooth audio streaming? People loved playing CDs in their car – and critically it was something you definitely couldn’t do with vinyl – so where were the partnerships, incentives, joint ventures with Ford, GM, BMW etc. to ensure that they supported what was – and still is – the most popular physical music format? If there were any, I don’t recall hearing about them. With no CD players in their new cars, consumers simply have another reason to stop buying them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Who buys CDs anymore?”

If CDs outsell vinyl massively – which they do – then why does the format sometimes get ignored and treated like some kind of black sheep of the physical format family? Why not take action to slow the decline? What about people who don’t own a turntable and who aren’t millennials? They aren’t been given a choice. They, apparently, are expected to do without some of the latest reissues, which is a strange way to treat your customers. They are frustrated and have money burning a hole in their pocket because for these music fans streaming or digital downloads simply aren’t a substitute for owning the physical product, and they physical product they want is the compact disc.

If feels a bit like manipulation, if I’m honest. We were told to ditch vinyl and buy CDs in the late 80s and 1990s. Now we are being encouraged to buy vinyl again and if the CD is indeed trudging very slowly towards the cliff edge of extinction, the industry appears to be giving it a big shove in the back, to help it on its way!

Of course, I realise much of this is down to money. Vinyl is a more profitable product. You only have to look at The Allman Brothers Band box set that was announced this week. The five-CD edition is about £40, the 10LP vinyl set is TEN TIMES more at around £400. That’s an extreme example, but in general you’re looking at £10 for a new CD and £20 for a vinyl LP. The industry clearly see vinyl as a growing market and CDs as a declining one, but things can change very quickly. After exponential growth a few years ago, vinyl sales are showing signs of plateauing at around the 4-5m mark in the UK, and it was only a few years ago that digital album downloads (which fell by over 28 percent last year) were heralded as a new era for music ‘consumption’.

Streaming is now undoubtedly the future of music for the wider population. In 2010, 72.7 percent of all albums  were ‘consumed’ via physical products. Now ten years later that figure is down to 18.2 percent. The streaming market, which didn’t exist ten years ago, makes up 74.4 percent of all music consumption. We, my friends, are now part of a niche audience. A minority. I know plenty of people who no longer have a CD player in their house, or a turntable for that matter and just don’t ‘get’ owning a CD.

But hey, being in a club is good. It’s fun. It’s intense and we need to stick together. The music industry should value us, and our opinions and not play us for fools. Fans who have bought CDs for 30 years aren’t going to suddenly dump everything off at their local charity shop and be happy to ‘rent’ all their music monthly from a streaming service and neither will they switch to vinyl overnight just because they see Sgt.Pepper in Sainsbury’s in a vinyl rack opposite the chicken breasts, or because a journalist for a trendy publication writes about ‘the vinyl revival’. Stop manipulating us; stop these ‘vinyl-only’ remasters and show some respect. Time to bend the knee to the still passionate 40, 50, 60, 70 year olds who lined your pockets between the 1960s and the end of the 1990s.

Consider this. Putting cassettes to one side (and that really is a blip and pure manipulation) with 4.3m units sold, vinyl remains officially the least popular way to listen to music albums in the UK at this present time. Last year more albums were streamed (114.2m), more CDs were bought (23.5m) and even more digital albums were purchased (7.3m).

There is some light at the end of the rainbow. The BPI state in their report that “enthusiasts also love to feed their passion for music by investing in premium-quality collections and box sets. So while they may be buying fewer CDs as a whole, they are tending to spend more on enhanced versions of recordings featuring premium and collectible packaging.” I think we know who they are referring to.

Also, interestingly, the BPI reported that physical remains the “kingmaker for number one albums”, stating that in 29 out of the 52 weeks last year physical accounted for over HALF of the sales of the number one album. So physical is diminishing, as a proportion of the overall market, percentage wise, but punches above its weight in terms of influence.

What’s your view on this situation? Please leave a comment. The BPI has made some (not all) of the data available to the public, which can be viewed here.

SuperDeluxeEdition.com helps fans around the world discover physical music and discuss releases. To keep the site free, SDE participates in various affiliate programs, including Amazon and earns from qualifying purchases.

323 Comments

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ANTONIO MORENO ALVAREZ

…I hate plastic jewel boxes, collected thousands at home. If all CDs were edited as, for example, the Dukes Of Stratosphere editions (hard cardboard digipak with a book inside, precious for sure, content and continent), my collection will shine as my parallel vinyl collection…Thanks for the matter and the stupendous debate. Best wishes from Madrid City, Spain.

David Steel

I think we are fed too much shit years ago it was digital formats are far better sounding than analogue so ditch records now it’s the other way analogue we are told is a much better sounding you even watch pop stars promoting there products holding the vinyl up on talk shows I think we need to get to the bottom of this debate analogue v digital once and for all

[…] waining, in the UK last year 23.5m CDs were sold compared to 4.3m vinyl records (read this ‘format wars‘ article for more on […]

Nigel L Bevan

I would love to first comment that this is a diplomatic essay about music and eventhough I haven’t read everyones responses, which I will over coming days. There will be some serious debate.

I’ve been a Music lover and purchaser since 1980. It’s always been about the Music. Vinyl was always my first love. The Walkman changed a lot of my listening habits. So, I bought both Vinyl and cassette upon releases. Then I found that vinyl warped or the stylus caused scratches which caused as I called jumping. I never used inferior hardware or stylus. But this was fact. I lost the use of many 12 inches and albums.

I resisted the CD format until 88,89. It wasn’t until artists concentrated on this format did I truly embrace it. When genuine remasters became available and listening to them on a decent system it became obvious to me the CD is superior.

It’s still my preference for Music and will continue to be. The internet fucked up the industry as we for a moment stopped buying CDs as we all felt paying £15 for a CD was too much. I remember downloading Depeche Mode Exciter two months before release date. I still bought it on release day as that’s my musical character. But this era of Internet destroyed music.

I was working in music media at the time and the agenda of labels was how to recoup monies lost. The only way was to re-educate the public and resell vinyl. Via movies, journalism, TV etc.. This agenda is the only way too recoup monies. Example, show much does vinyl cost these days. I rest my case. We are been resold what we’ve already bought. Heavy Weight vinyl is the biggest rip off.

I kept Picadilly Records in Manchester going and now they have pretty much dumped CDs. They haven’t had my business in 3 years I buy elsewhere. I still buy a lot of music so they have lost out.

I’m not anti vinyl. I still have it but it is not my first choice of buying music and it never will be. Audio sound is more my thing so until a better source of format arrives its CDs for me.

Mick Mullahy

Hi Paul
Sorry for the late comment but, COULD NOT HAVE PUT IT BETTER !!!!!
I’ve been buying vinyl since 1975 – first single, Bohemian Rhapsody, 45 pence please !
Had hundreds of vinyl singles and albums. Used to go to Yanks in Manchester where you could brand new, sealed albums for 5op ! They were used as ballast when white goods were shipped here from America (hence the name !), so import duty wasn’t due on them. When the name was changed to Powercuts they started selling CDs too which were incredibly cheap again.
I resisted buying CDs until 1990 when I spent £500 on a half decent Technics set of separates including CD player, so that was when I changed format.
Since then I’ve probably bought a couple of dozen vinyl items – couple of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion coloured vinyl 7 inch singles in 1998. Some nice Johnny Thunders limited edition, coloured vinyl albums and 10 inch singles over the last couple of years. Recently bought a couple of coloured vinyl MC5 albums and last Christmas the 3 vinyl version of Live At Leeds from yourselves – great packaging on that one ! I bought the News if the World box set and the CD again is better sounding than the vinyl.
But. But, but, but…….. ! About fifteen years ago I bought a Sony double deck CD recorder and started transferring my vinyl onto CD. And guess what ? The CD sounds better than the vinyl ! More brighter, crisper, fuller and LOUDER ! So if any of my friends question which format has the best sound they can hear it with their own ears ! I’ll play the same song on vinyl, CD, re-mastered CD on the Technics system through the same speakers and CD wins every time !
Like one reader has pointed out – CD box set for £100 or vinyl version for a lot more, well it’s no contest.
Yes some CD versions are disappointing – some early CDs had a tinny sound (Powerage by AC/DC) or album cover just copied from original vinyl so can’t read it or actually less photographs content on CD (Lizzy’s re-mastered Live and Dangerous). But they are in the minority.
Ultimately it’s the sound quality we want and CD is the one that is best. This vinyl resurgence is a fad that will fade. Storage space is a major drawback with vinyl but isn’t with CD.
Yes I have songs on my phone that I listen to in the car but they are albums I own.
Finally, as everybody knows, you can get more music on a CD than vinyl, so value for money is a major plus point, as well as getting to hear unreleased tracks.
Stay safe everybody
Cheers
Mick

Laura

Paul, did you read last week’s article at Discogs about SACDS?

Richard Lloyd

Although I don’t actually play CDs directly any more, I still buy them in preference to MP3s (I hate streaming because you don’t own the tracks!) because they’re often cheaper than MP3s and act as a useful physical backup after you’ve ripped them to your preferred digital format.

I upload my ripped CDs to Google Play Music for free (100,000 tracks allowed!) and them download them onto my phone/tablet’s microSD card for offline playback (I don’t understand people who use 4G to stream music while on the move – it’s a complete waste of your expensive data plan).

An obvious example is Amazon UK, where a CD album is often cheaper then the equivalent MP3 album and regularly comes with Autorip if you really are too lazy to use CD ripping software. Just make sure they haven’t snuck in bonus MP3-only tracks compared to the CD, which does occasionally happen.

Note that I’ve never bought anything vinyl in my life because the only advantage it has over CDs is larger artwork – it’s a worse medium in every other way compared to CD. I’ll tell you one thing I miss – the heyday of CD singles: 4 different songs (some non-album quite often) or 8 remixes of the song for 99p! Tori Amos was the “mistress of the CD single” in her early days – you oftem got an entire album’s worth of non-album tracks if you picked up all the CD single discs from an album!

Joel Calderone

You hit it right on the head!!!

Chuck Salazar

Excellent article, first level research! I congratulate you Paul … greetings from Mexico.

Jim B

A good article, Paul,

I’m aware that there are some comments on vinyl quality and n area which I feel, merits more attention is the quality control of vinyl pressings.

As a keen vinyl collector (blues/blues-rock/folk/folk-rock), my preference is for the earliest releases I can find (or afford) but I am frequently tempted by the new, well-packaged, re-issued box sets available on-line or in-store.

The recent trend towards heavyweight pressings (180g to 200g) should help ensure that the audio(phile) customer gets the best experience possible. However, on a number of occasions over the past 3-4 years in particular, I have been caught out by pressing errors and pressing residue on LP surfaces. Apart from being very annoying, I suspect this has caused damage to my stylii on more than one occasion – and replacement or refurb costs are in my case, quite high!

Normally there has been no issue in obtaining refunds or replacements for the records, but there is no compensation for the damage or hassle involved.

In my experience, CDs don’t have the same quality issues.

Regarding the Quality Control of vinyl pressings, what insights do you have?

Mathew Lauren

Wow! You put a lot of work behind this article, Paul, and I’m glad you posted it here (IN FULL) on SDE.com.

Thanks and Great work!

Very interesting read. I would be interested to see how this translates to “across the pond” (U.S. and Canadian) format sales.

As for me, I guess I’m niche-niche, as I only purchase surround-sound discs (now), whether a dts-Cd, DVD-A/V or Blu-ray with my preference being 5.1 SACDs. If Cds are attached to any surround-sound SDEs, many times it ends up being another copy of something I already own, but now RM’d — and if I suddenly need/want a copy of something 2.0 Cd, I head to my local CdTraders (often a “second-hand” purchase). In fact, I think I’ve only purchased one, NEW, 2.0-item (“Aja” RM’d on Cd) in the last 5+ years!

I was a vinyl guy. Always vinyl – and I made my own cassette copies from that virgin vinyl, but I don’t miss those days. My vinyl sits unused since the 80s or never opened and in pristine condition in surround-sound, SDE offerings.

Cheers.

1984

I don’t quite get the use of CDs, vinyl or cassettes. They all eat up a lot of space, but I also do not like streaming music as it is never really my own, stuff disappears and with it playlists too.

I prefer digital downloads, wave, highres 24/192 or 24/96 although I know that’s it’s largely placebo so 16/44.1 is alright too, I’ll make mp3s from that on my own for two portable devices.

The industry is rather lacking for those of us who want to buy digital, I have never ever gotten the lyrics and the artwork in pdf format so that I can at least read the lyrics etc whenever needed

Lee

As an avid vinyl collector of over 40 years, I am often amused as to the heated arguments about which format is “better”. Everyone, but everyone is going to have a subjective view on this because everyone is different (thankfully). I have had countless audio freaks try to convince me that CD’s were/are superior to vinyl and I remember getting quite offended by anyone that had the audacity to impose on me their rigid views on the matter. Yes, it is scientifically proven that digital music/CD’s are technically better than vinyl reproduction, but life does not need to be ALL about science and how it dictates what we should or shouldn’t do. We’re all different, but as far as music is concerned, we are all the SAME – we all love music! No matter how it is consumed. Why oh why do people get hung up on trying to insist that their way of consuming music is better than the next persons?
In respect of how music products are to be marketed, well, since CD’s came into force in the early to mid 80’s, it has always been the case that whatever drives the market is the key – the industry doesn’t really care how we consume music, they only care about profit. Of course now vinyl is being marketed as a big cash cow, due to the huge markup to be made, some of the prices are clearly designed to rip music lovers off and I wholly resent that fact. The bottom may well fall out of the vinyl buying market because vinyl buyers will get fed up of being ripped off and stop buying, simple as that – it’s still a niche market, just more of a niche market than it was 10-15 years ago. Things are cyclical – formats will peak and trough in the future, but I don’t think the urge to handle physical product will ever wain – we are a tactile race. Ironically, CD’s will probably become as niche as vinyl became in the mid 90’s and in 10 years time, you will see some CD’s going for the silly prices you find on Discogs (my own vinyl collection is now worth over 64k, with most of that valuation for vinyl purchased between 1994 and 2005).
Anyway, we are all at the mercy of the industry and will always be dictated to accordingly. Personally, being selfish admittedly, I quite like to coexistence of the various formats, because it highlights how different we are, but ultimately it confirms that we all adore music!

Lee.

Maresky

May I ask, where are new old formats HD, BD-Audio, or at least DVD-A or good old SACD also?

If CD used to die, OK., but they founded replacement in the past, so where they are now, who is working in record companies?

Companies are lazy, artist are lazy too, where are those all high density 192kHz, 96/24, 5.1, 9.2 and other super dupper exiting numbers?
No steady bottom line… One example, last box of depeche Mode, what is propose after BD Video, BD-Audio and dM SACD Remasters from the past?
One step closer, two steps outer… No R&D policy at any form. Next, in the UHD BD era special super deluxe editions included what, DVD? … are you sure, majors?!

Of course, vinyl is the best (sarcasm).
But not for customers.
For sealers, 20-30 playing and you need new one copy because of phisical degradation.

XXI century! Where we live now?
I see now in the industry almost only stranger people and greed.

Eric C

The CD decline is justa manipulation of the Records companies to get right of physical format, logistics and storage and only be paper companies that license to streaming companies (that will kill them afterwards; bu t they do as for mp3, they dont see the wall approaching tpp busy focussed on their bonuses. They really don”t give a fuck about soudn qaulity where CD is superior to streaming and vinyl ( Maths and specs applies there, not urban legend.

Jayson Wilson

If Steven Wilson and Jethro Tull can keep putting out these great Tull box sets with CD’s, DVD’s and BluRay’s – even for Tull records that are not highly though of – and they sell out to the point where third party vendors can sell a new box set copy of “Songs From The Wood” for $300, I am sorry, but the physical format is not going away. People predicted ages ago that CD’s would be gone by now, and yet they remain. There is an audience for COLLECTING music. Moreover, I think you will see a massive artist push back if the record labels try to abandon the physical format. Artists earn much more money from CD’s and LP’s being sold than thru streaming. I would be willing to bet that Mick Jagger earned more money in FY2019 from Rolling Stone CD’s and LP’s being sold that he earned from Spotify. Moreover, artists generally want their music presented in the best possible fidelity, which streaming will just never provide because it eats up too much bandwidth. Lastly, the record industry understands that some of the biggest selling artists in history like Pink Floyd and The Who would’ve died if they were forced to be singles acts. There are some artists like Tool who simply cannot sell hit singles. They must sell an ALBUM. Their music and artistry is meant to be listened to through an entire album with artwork and such. I think you will see less record stores (they are already fading, but mainly because amazon.com can beat any of their prices), and maybe less CD’s will be less manufactured, but I would be completely STUNNED if we do not have a PHYSICAL FORMAT for music in 10 years. There is still an audience for it, and there is money to be made from it. The business model will just be adjusted to understand that when a group like Tool releases a CD, it’s not gonna sell 10 million CD’s.

John McCann

They said kindal would do away with books dident they, Waterstones in sauchihall street was heavin at Xmas,all four floors of it, people will always want something nice,look at the imagine boxset,im sure some people would pay£30for the empty box, Just to keep letters and stuff in,

Branny

The figures above suggest that the physical formats are dying on their arse in comparison to streaming services and that goes for movies too. I used to buy a fair few dvds but that has declined greatly with the advent of streaming. I still buy the odd blu ray but these are restricted to favourites that will have repeated viewing.

With regards to music my vinyl days pretty much ended when cds became readily available and cds remain my medium of choice to this day. I have a decent system so I’m happy with the sound i get so i can’t justify the extra outlay on vinyl, plus cds are more practical from a space point of view at the rate i buy.

My view is that the industry is going to big up what makes it the most money. Vinyl is much more expensive since it was re-launched so the profit margins must be far greater than what they are making on cds, especially with box sets so they will try to boost the popularity of the format with marketing ploys such as saying it’s outselling cds.

T-Bone

Don’t know if this was posted because there’s too many replies, but here’s another one.

https://blogs.sas.com/content/graphicallyspeaking/2019/11/11/will-vinyl-records-outsell-cds-in-2019/

[…] done here, be sure to read Paul Sinclair’s excellent commentary on CD collecting over at Super Deluxe Edition). Streamers will have to wait for it’s not yet available online. If and when that happens, […]

c_q

I think the record companies got so burned with CDs being so easily copied 100% perfectly (despite the fact that they LOVED them when they first came out as they charged twice what vinyl or cassette cost) that they now like the fact that not only can they charge double again for vinyl than CD, but that vinyl is not as easy to copy as CDs either. So no wonder they might want to push the narrative that CD is dead.

Nigel L Bevan

Totally hit the nail on the head

Yani P

To me its really simple – its just about the very personal love of the music that inspires individuals. And whether that happens to take the form of vinyl, CD or streaming it doesnt really matter. I wont even start to get into the debate on what sounds better – there are so many factors involved there is no simple answer. to just say CD sounds better than vinyl or vice versa is just nonsense.
I have collected records for too many years to remember and am lucky enough to hold a collection of around 380,000 all told. I also have a significant number of CD’s. I guess I have always loved vinyl records and just never lost the bug even when they were out of “fashion”.

But people deserve a choice – why should you be ignored as a consumer just because you prefer CD over vinyl? I think the biggest issue will be when the pressure comes in to remove any physical options. I give kudos to Paul and all those on here who are passionate about whatever format they choose to listen on (or in many cases multiple formats). without these voices it will be far too easy to just slowly strangle the physical product market until it breathes no more.

I love tangible “things” – I dont mind Spotify in the car – its actually really convenient and great fun building that long journey playlist. But I want to see what I own, read about the band, how the album was constructed etc, etc. I want to cherish that SDE. Its so much more than listening to the music.

I can remember as a kid listening to radio luxembourg (or at least trying to get that signal late into the night when I should have been sleeping). I am very fortunate now that I have been able to buy the very top end hi-fi to enjoy my music on – it literally sends me to a different world when I listen to it – in awe of the magnificent sound filling my room – whether CD or vinyl. But I still remember the crackly radio as a child, because it was still the magnificent music that dragged me in.

I hope everyone on this site will never lose that feeling of magic – and I hope the industry continues to fuel our passion with the products we each demand and look forward to like excited kids at Christmas.

Shane

Honestly I will never understand how someone with a good head on their shoulder would actually long for streaming or promote that as the format to go.
Do you not realize yet that streaming availability is at the mercy of someone else who is not a) you or b) the artist?
Do you really want someone to decide what you can listen to?
Have you not had enough times been in a situation where stuff disappeared from the platform?
That already should be enough to make an alarm go off and say oh hell no you don’t, let me buy a product that I will own and decide when to play it. It’s been like that ever since records started being sold a century ago and should remain like that.
Digital or streaming should be an additional market.
Have people become so lazy that they can’t be bothered with ripping a cd themselves and need it to be already there like that? Have people been spoiled like that?
I will never joint spotify or netflix. I am forced to download occasionally when stuff is only released that way and I want it badly (i.e. the stunning Burning The Heater EP) but I will go out of my way to not support it and I think any real music lover should.

Ask yourself if you want to depend on someone else’s decision on what to listen to. The answer can only be No. You would not be on a blog of this nature otherwise.

Ian Burgess

I could write a much longer piece, maybe I will. But for now, one question. If Vinyl is so superior, why do so many copies of vinyl albums come with a cd copy, (minus most of the artwork) or MP3 download code?

EW99

I think because most people would also want access to the music away from their record deck. Speaking for myself I like records but I begrudge having to do the donkey work of recording them on to my computer, splitting up and converting the files, and then tagging them nicely in order to listen to them on the train. A supplementary CD is fine as it’s easier to rip than a record but to be honest I don’t really need the two physical formats; vinyl + mp3 download does the job.

MMoretti (Brasil)

The taste for vinyl vs CD is quite controversial.
Obviously the CD delivers much more quality than vinyl. This is technically proven. The CD is easy to handle and store, does not scratch easily and when sold in special boxes and digipacks with inserts they are as cool as vinyls. It is enough for the industry to invest in the production of a beautiful product, use durable materials, etc. In the case of vinyl, for you to get great quality in reproduction, you need excellent equipment, which is inevitably very expensive! In the case of the CD, even with simpler equipment, you can hear an album in great quality. The frequency ranges are larger and there is no friction.
Although many purists defend vinyl with arguments such as sinusoidal continuity, I think that just because there is friction between needle and vinyl, it is already something that generates significant losses of audible frequencies. The amount of samples per second on a CD is very high, which does not justify the defense of vinyl.
Vinyl as an object in itself, for a collector may even be more attractive, but the advantages stop there.
As for Streamings, I think it is a format that really leads and has won the world, however, I realize that the albums available are far from the same ones found on CD. A lot is out of print and I see that if Streamings become the most accepted standard, we run the risk of falling into mechanisms like Google, which starts offering only what sells more. This greatly limits the experience of those looking for content.
Another detail, Streamings in general provide audio in a maximum quality equivalent to the 320 kbps mp3, which is not the best way to listen to music. Flac files far exceed this requirement. I think that this war is more a war of marketing, and generally in these wars, only consumers lose.

Mark

I agree that CD and lossless files >= 16/44 resolution should all else equal be sonically superior to vinyl due capability, but if this capability is not utilised or even misused due to inferior mastering vinyl can and does sound better if the vinyl master is better.

CD has a bette dynamic range for sure but if the CD master has a smaller range than the vinyl master the vinyl will sound better

J

It will be interesting to the USA RIAA report which comes out in March. Their mid-year report reveals a slightly different environment than the UK numbers.
While it is true that in the first half of 2019 80% of US music revenues were from streaming, CD sales were only slightly higher than LP revenue numbers (247 million vs 224). However, the units shipped for CDs were much larger than LPs (18.6 million vs 8.6). The important economic point is the spread between the mediums on a per unit basis (cd 13.33 vs lp 26.04). And while it is true the calendar year 2019 will see larger LP revenues vs CD the “revival” of plastic is a function of price points & not units sold. Lps will account for about 30% of all units shipped in 2019. So much for the revival of LPS.
read the RIAA mid-year report here
https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2019/09/08/vinyl-overtake-cd-sales/

Antonio L Rodriguez del Pozo

Hi Paul,
First of all, tks for the post, another hit.
You have already highlighted the KPIs (just to keep on the loop fd business industry idiots),
“manipulation”, “much of this is down to money” “Vinyl is a more profitable product.” .
I have already written ink rivers about this, vinyl vs cd & physical vs streaming. I just want to post a short outline. As you I got some thousands vinyls, and of course a huge cd collection, I will keep buying cds. Will not waste time about cars without a cd reader, same battle between combustion engine cars and PHEVS, electric and so on.
This is something similar to the past when cds coming from the US where inserted in a kind of packaging that slightly reminded to vinyl covers, then it was removed because of paper consume, thus only jewel cases offered. I my particular situation, I remove jewel cases because of an storage reason, and keep cds into special plastic bags, and because jewel cases immediately show scratches, etc

In the late years I am a bit concern because a large number of new issues are launched into digipack formats, thus what are we talking about?

As you quoted: much of this is down to money, not with music.

Susan

This article also referenced in the Stones fan site iorr.org under “Tell me” “Does anyone still dig CD’s”. Paul spreads far & wide!

CD’s all the way for me! I can’t see that changing as I’m not gonna replace them. I don’t have a record player, tapes are dead. I only listen to new music on YouTube for example the new Morrissey single & Moby & Sigor Ros long ambient music( The latter 2 you can’t even buy hard copies of ). I will never pay for Spotify or any similar thing. For the most part, music belongs in my own hands & on the shelves in my man cave!

Fish

I agree with your view Paul 100% and appreciate someone in your position going out of your way to make this case. We can hope that some people see this and word travels to the powers that be and maybe it can save the format we love very much. My father and I both have extensive cd collections. I was raised on music for the most part, and will only listen to cds. To me they sound the best, despite what other people think. Honestly in my opinion at the same time, music sounds best in the car. Especially in my case where I have one of the best car audio systems I’ve ever heard. it’s the best place to be completely surrounded by the music. With good speakers and a good player, it can make everything sound amazing. You can’t truly get that sound on a surround system at home listening to vinyl. In the car, the music can bounce off of the glass and plastics can absorb a bit which creates sound and in my case again with how good the acoustics are in my actual vehicle, you just can’t find a better sound. I’m not sure what is making these car companies take an 1/8”off a head unit that’s being put in a car anyway because it looks “sleeker” and because some of the population doesn’t listen to cds anymore. Well not all of the population listens to vinyl and streams! Some of us only listen too cds. Why do we have to be punished? I had a 2018 Nissan Sentra SR Midnight Edition from May-November. Got out of my loving 2016 Toyota Corolla S (biggest mistake ever). After a few months I unfortunately recognized that the Sentra’s cd system just simply wasn’t as good, especially compared with the Corolla. Aside from that the ends of my cds always skipped due to the player being terrible. You could tell they didn’t put too much into the player, as it was dying then and taken out completely in the 2019 Sentras. So what did I do? I searched everywhere for the exact same Corolla I had (2016 S-2019 S is the same car mostly before the redesign for 2020). After months of looking and debating I finally found a 2019 good enough for me with low miles and in near mint condition. Took a financial hit but happy to say I got back into the car I loved so much, mainly for the CD player and system it comes with stock. That is part of my dedication to this format for sure. I also did it because even Toyota took out the CD player in 2020, so I had to get something that had it while I could! I’ll never get rid of this car. My hope is one day the music industry and car companies will see that we are all different and like different things, and it doesn’t cost that much to cater to everyone. Hoping cds will stay around, and everyone will stop following trends just to make money and make that trend more popular. It’s ridiculous that they try to push us away from them. It’s a great format and I will always be here supporting it. And we need to get Columbia/Sony to realize not putting out Bruce Springsteen Albums Collection Vol. 2 on cd was completely ridiculous and that they should release it on cd. They STILL have stock of the limited edition vinyl set to this day. That tells you something.

Anyone who thinks a vinyl or digital file sounds better than a cd, I welcome to contact me and come listen to my CD player in my car. You will be blown away.

Sorry for rambling, this is a sore subject for me lol. And a lot of this is opinion and it’s just fine that we all like what we like. One side nor the other is wrong, it’s all about what makes you happy. If you stream, listen to vinyl or cd. As long as you like it that’s what matters. We all should be able to enjoy what we like, and not be made to feel like we need to go one way or another.

Holger Meier

Very good article Paul. I’m 47 and I still collect records and cd’s. Spotify I use mainly in the car and in the office or on holidays. Even though I miss the old times a bit, living in 2020 is great. Through Spotify I discover so much music legally that I would have never heard. You don’t need to buy everything if you just like certain songs of an artist.
The problem is if I hear something on Spotify that I love and there is a nice limited edition I have to buy it. :-)

Zapp

True 100% Agree 100%

AlexKx

You can’t buy radios with AM on them anymore either. Something is amiss, up, and going down.

Daniel Wylie

I do like vinyl and still buy records but Cd’s sound better. It’s a shame the way the CD, such a great format for music has been abandoned by so many.

The best thing about the vinyl revival is that it’s keeping CD prices low. I bought the recent The Police, remastered box set on CD from Amazon for £15. The vinyl was £107. I got the first couple of Michael Kiwanuka albums on CD, brand new, for £4 each.

Long live the CD.

JJDelmas

Absolutely spot on IMHO.
Last Saturday I went to a concert of an acquaintance. He had made an album and was selling it there. On vinyl at 15€ and on CD at 5€, same content. That shows pretty much the difference of margin the two formats can have, even at a cottage industry level.
Vinyl is like Nespresso: they manage to convince the public how hip is to pay double the price for the same product.

Mad Earwig

I don’t understand your Nespresso point, how are you paying twice? It’s 32 pence a capsule.

John McCann

But was your acquaintance actually making a profit on the vinyl,if he only had a couple of Hundred pressed up then,,£13 would be just about covering his costs I would think, maybe made a few euros on cds,wots his band called?

Stephen Graham

One thing to take into consideration is the geographic markets. Japan is an outlier in the sense that CDs still remain the dominant format, even compared to streaming.
https://metropolisjapan.com/cds-still-big-japan/
I think the CD still has lots of life left in it and the industry should be doing much more to support it.

AlexKx

I concur.

Gareth Jones

I’ve already made 3 comments on this thread, so I’ll shut up after this! But I thought SDE readers may enjoy this song/video by Jeffrey Lewis. It’s all about his love of vinyl collecting, but now they’re too expensive, so he’s returned to another format!….
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3urXygZXb74

Frank B

I LOVE CDs! I am an avid US collector. I have well over 11,000 CDs. All tracked in a database. My basement is a music library from the last 30 years+. It frustrates me to no end that there have been albums not released on cd at all!! I am willing to spend the money on expanded issues and box sets. I ask artists to release their albums on cd and get no response or that it might come out at a later time. I think it is outrageous and foolish of the music industry. To phase this format out. I am totally baffled when I see that cassettes are available but not CDs?!! Really?!! I hope they come to their senses. If they need to charge more, go ahead, but I would gladly pay it and would appreciate the consideration to someone who absolutely adores music on this format! Stop the insanity!!

Mark

My first priority is getting the best quality sound and whilst I would prefer to own my music physically I will sacrifice physical ownership for better sound. I maintain an audiophile system for vinyl and FLAC (ripping any physical CD/Blu Ray/DVD-A to FLAC in order to play back at 24/96 through my external DAC)

I suppose the ideal for me is a well mastered physical 24/96 format (Blu Ray or DVD-A) but these as rare.

However mastering is the key here and often (but not always) the vinyl mastering makes vinyl sonically superior to any of the digital lossless formats available and this is why I buy vinyl over any digital format.

However without question a well mastered 24/96 FLAC (or even 16/44) will outperform the same master pressed to vinyl (compare the Eurythmics half-speed mastered vinyl to the associated vinyl downloads). Both are good but the download has the edge.

The “warmth” many refer to with vinyl is actually colouration (distortion). Using my Rega RP10 (very neutral) I don’t think vinyl is tonally much different from the digital lossless version of the same master.

Often (but not always)

Steve w

Why use FLAC and not WAV?

Mark

From an audio quality perspective there is no difference between WAV and FLAC (both are truly lossless) but metadata is easier to capture with FLAC.

I’d put the question back to you, why WAV?

SimonP

I’ll put this question to you: why hi-res?

Your human ears can’t hear it, no matter what your brain tells you.

Mark

Simon,

This is another debate (rabbit hole) entirely and it’s more about the sampling frequency than the bit depth.

I agree that 22 kHz (44.1 kHz sample rate) is at or even slightly above the capacity of the human ear, so you are correct that you can’t hear the higher frequencies using higher sample rates. However this is only looking at the brick-wall cut off from one side of the wall, what no one can prove scientifically is whether brick-walling (cutting out) the frequencies >22 kHz (the other side of the wall) impacts the loudspeakers reproduction of the frequencies inside the brick-wall cut off that you can hear, especially those close to the brick-wall. My view is that a 22 kHz cut off is simply just too close to the capacity of the human ear and it’s worthwhile having the cut off higher, which means 88.2 or 96 kHz. I can hear a difference between a 24/96 rip and a 16/44 rip of the same 24/96 Blu Ray but I can’t differentiate between 24/192 and 24/96.

My points (relevant to Paul’s article) were that I will sacrifice physical for better quality and that a well mastered >= 16/44.1 digital format will out perform the same master pressed to vinyl. Unfortunately well mastered vinyl is far more common than well mastered digital and sounds better.

Mark

#Blink

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that and the science is inconclusive here.

Brick-wall cut-offs don’t exit in the original sound, they are introduced by digital recording and more importantly the human ear does not exhibit a brick-wall frequency cut off.

A 44.1 kHz sample rate results in the brick-wall cut off operating far too close to the capacity of the human ear. A higher cut off of 48 kHz (96 kHz sample rate ensures the cut off operates well outside the range of the capacity of the human ear.

Why have the cut off so close when you can push it further away?

Steve W

The reason I mention WAV is that it does not involve any compression routine or encoding, it is a raw digital copy – an absolute like for like.
Given the low costs of hard disk storage, there is more opportunity to store larger uncompressed files.

While WAV does not allow for metadata, file naming gives ample room for track, artist, album, year data etc.

blink

“what no one can prove scientifically is whether brick-walling (cutting out) the frequencies >22 kHz (the other side of the wall) impacts the loudspeakers reproduction of the frequencies inside the brick-wall cut off that you can hear, especially those close to the brick-wall”

long story short, having the frequencies outside the wall available can impact the sound inside the wall due to the limitations of the equipment – but that is a bug, not a feature, i.e. what you get is a distortion, not a more accurate representation of the original sound

blink

FLAC is a lossless compression, so when you play it back it 1:1 is the WAV file. The only difference is that it takes up less HD space and needs to be unpacked during playback – which for all intents and purposes boils down to needs less HD space. So to me there is no reason to ever store something as WAV (unless you are still editing that sound file).

blink

, what music that you listen to actually contains sounds in the 20kHz range? Chances are none does.

As to the cut off being close to the hearing range, that is arguably true for the theoretical hearing range (20kHz upper limit vs 22kHz for the medium is still a decent buffer), but pretty much no adult still has that range, by then the upper limit is 16kHz or below, which gives you a wide enough gap.

As to why not expand the range ? File size. I can get behind 16/48 if you want to play it safe but 24/96 is overkill and I very much doubt that you can reliably hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/96 in a blind test.

You will probably get it right about 50% of the time (ie pure chance) when done in a proper setup (same system, same source just downconverted, same volume, etc.), unless you have a bat in your family tree at most 4 generations ago ;)

In all studies I have seen on this, that is invariably the outcome. Hi-res is a marketing gimmick with no actual value, but as long as record companies can charge you more for it, they will offer it.

Mark

@Blink

File size is not a valid constraint here when comparing 24/96 FLAC to 16/44 FLAC. I therefore prefer digital files where the brick-wall cut off operates very comfortably above the absolute possible threshold of hearing. 48 kHz may just be to enough here but to be sure I prefer a little higher which practically means 88.2/96 kHz. At this point we both agree there is no point going any higher. CD was originally meant to be 16/48 but oddly 44.1 was famously chosen as a “compromise” to increase run time to accommodate a CEOs favourite classical piece on one disc……

I suppose the key question is why do so many studios record at 24/96? I know they set levels for 16 bits (more than enough dynamite range) but use 24 bits to avoid any clipping caused by unexpected peaks, but why do so many record with a 96 kHz sample rate, which started well before 24/96 was offered to consumers?

For me price is important but a 24/96 file should cost the same as a nasty 128k AAC file but that’s another matter.

Let’s leave it there we both agree there is no punt going beyond a certain sample rate, the question is how close do you want to have your brick-wall cut off.

Mad Earwig

As Mark replies, it’s very similar Sounding but WAV is a bigger file. If you get WAV files they often don’t have data like track name, artist etc.
With Flac, it’s CD sound quality in a lossless file. I can then fix the meta data to be more consistent in my library.
I am always surprised at the inconsistency in meta data with so many variances in spelling, capitalisation etc.

blink

“File size is not a valid constraint here when comparing 24/96 FLAC to 16/44 FLAC. ” depends on how many files you have I guess. 24/96 is roughly twice the size of 16/44 from what I have seen, and my ripped CDs already take up 1 TB in FLAC…

“I suppose the key question is why do so many studios record at 24/96?” because they do a lot of editing before the end result becomes a CD. For that it is good to have more buffer so you do not have to be as precise in the editing (in terms of the result staying completely inside the wall). Once you have the end result in 24/96 you only have to be precise the one time you bring it down to 16/44 to make sure everything is in that range rather than ‘shifted’ up/down. Once you set the floor/ceiling correctly, 16/44 is fine.

Stevie B

FOPP Byres Road Glasgow has a closing down sale today. The last record shop in the West End (I remember when Partick/Hillhead had 8 not including the two Woolworths that had record counters). Probably means nothing to anyone in London, who bemoans having to travel to Shepherds Bush or Covent Garden but… as at one time apart from Japan, Glasgow was the biggest buying market per head of population than anywhere else in the world it’s a sad day. Seems hipsters are buying their CD/Vinyl online now. Although I’ve said physical formats are doomed, regardless of formats, rather than slag off whether a piece of music comes in the format you want or doesn’t, or if you think record companies are promoting or killing off a format. If you want somewhere other than ONLINE and want a physical EXPERIENCE as well as physical PRODUCT maybe visit your local record shop today.

John McCann

Hi Stevie,you still have mixed up record ds,otago lane and the one on park road, the old lost chord,thats a record shop now, where there any bargain in fopp, I would have thought they would just have moved stock to union street,oh also the lane next to to d.maggios has a used record shop,i was 12 in 1980 me and my mates doged school and spent all day in record shops,blooggs,listen 23rd precinct and all the big ones, Glasgow then was brilliant

Seikotsi

do you still have ‘missing’ records? or have they closed down too? and the one on great western road – forgot the name…

RJS

If I was just starting to listen to music, I’d definitely opt for streaming. £120 per year multiplied by 35 means I’d have spent approx £4,200 for an all you can listen to experience. I must have spent over £30,000 on physical product in that time. It’s all ripped to FLAC and streamed and I now just regard most of the residual CDs and cases as clutter. The fact that I wouldn’t own anything and that I’d have to keep paying a monthly fee to access music wouldn’t be a concern.

Paul E.

@RJS – That’s certainly a fair point and difficult to argue from a cost perspective. However, I’d politely disagree in the sense that you probably enjoyed the 35 year hunt to build your collection- if you hadn’t, you would have pursued another hobby entirely. I’d even go as far to assume that you took great time and care to rip your lossless music to hard drive [you must care and used FLAC]…possibly adding the period appropriate b-sides, remixes, and rarities to indivdual “albums” to enhance your PERSONAL streaming enjoyment.

Spotify allows anyone to create a playlist but what’s the lineage of the track you’re adding to the playlist- original, remaster, remix, etc.? If it’s Spotify, it’s capped at 320 kbps already and a good source is paramount. Also is the song even available/will it be available a month or year from now? All concerns you don’t have RJS with the music on YOUR server and most likely spread across several convenient devices (SONOS, iPhone, Hi Res Player, etc.).

Oh well, that’s my rebuttal of sorts. Perhaps justifying the $65,000 this 50 year old has spent on collecting since the age of 12 (and not regretting one day of it).

Steve W

But surely that limits your music choices as not all releases are on all streaming databases?
What if your Internet is down or subject to bandwidth throttling?
You are ok then with no ownership of sleeve art, band credits, recording data etc.?

Bill Z

PAUL! There’s a link to this story from the well known and well respected Bob Dylan site Expecting Rain. Big time!!

Brian Boyd

That’s how I got here. Great read.

Marquand See

Ah, petroleum products. Whether actually wanted or not, the illusion of desire and need will continue to be pushed through so many channels.

John McCann

But did you not get a buyers buzz in all of thoes 35 years, excited as you went into town and got the new Madness’ album or whatever you where onto,or maybe opening a xmax present which contained music, surely this must have been worth the£15.800 shortfall,and you do still have over 30 grands worth of stuff you regard as clutter, which I will nip round with my van and clear for you on Sunday,,,,,, just cover my diesel costs,,,

David Wishart

A related opinion appeared in the New York Times this weekend, it’s satire, but relevant to this discussion. https://nyti.ms/2G46NnO

“ AN OP-ED FROM THE FUTURE
We Should Have Bought the DVDs
It’s 2022. I don’t know if I’ll ever own a house, but I can own my favorite television shows in their entirety.”

JC

An additional point to be made…
When Paul or any other expert out there takes the stance that CD’s outsell Vinyl by a huge amount, they are ONLY talking about NEW product. The used market, which is the lifeline of most record stores leans quite heavily on vinyl sales. In fact, it’s so skewed towards vinyl, that most stores won’t even buy used CD’s unless they are premium titles, and if they do…they won’t pay but pennies on the dollar, if even that. Most likely they will only offer store credit.

Jurg

Not true! I sell my CD’s for two euro’s a piece. The second hand store takes everything but no compilations by various artists. Again, treat your product with respect and deliver it unscratched. The smallest scratch is a no sale.

John Bommarito

My 2 cents:
I always prefer CD. I would only buy vinyl if it’s absolutely the only way to get the “album” and even then I am likely to skip buying it if it is only digital or available on vinyl.

This doesn’t apply to most of the major artists covered on this mighty fine web page, but smaller independent artists are also making great music, but absolutely struggling to make a living as musicians because the amount paid out by streaming services. What’s going to kill the music industry and creative people is if we don’t value the art they make and pay them fairly for making it. There will be no incentive to choose that profession as their job. Imagine a world with no new music. I don’t want to live in that world.

Tony Pill

I have a store in New Zealand and agree with all comments made. i do sell second hand and new vinyl but also sell a lot of CD’s. Yes I only pay a dollar or two for second hand CD’s but turn them over at a reasonable profit as I do with second hand vinyl. Yes the new vinyl is expensive and I agree that the record companies are riding the wave but if they continue at such high prices they will shoot themselves in the foot.
I enjoy and have a passion for music and recognise the trends which as a store owner I make the most of but I can see trends changing which means I have to be on my guard continually . I am now 74 so hope that the trends do not make rapid changes until in about 5 years time I can sell my business for the second time around.
None of these changes though will drive me away from my love of music in general. a fascinating world we live in.

JC

Poorly written article about Vinyl overtaking CD sales.
What they mean is DOLLAR-WISE…not number of units. They make much more from vinyl sales than they do on CD sales. Would you rather sell 20 million pennies, or 5 million nickels?

Read this version of the article.
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/vinyl-cds-revenue-growth-riaa-880959/

Gareth Jones

I agree with this point. I’ve seen small unsigned bands play gigs, and they only sell their music on CD or cassette. They very rarely have a vinyl product, unless they do a crowd funding page for fans to invest in the production of a vinyl release. And of course if not enough fans pay up, that won’t happen.

I see a LOT of unsigned bands on Bandcamp who actually only do a cassette as a physical release, because they’re so cheap to produce in small quantities. Not a format of my personal choice, and I would much prefer them to do a low-budget hand-written CD-R if they can’t afford a proper pressing, but regardless, it proves how expensive producing vinyl can be for a new small band, not just expensive for the punter to buy!

JC

While it’s probably not that expensive to produce the actual CD’s themselves, it’s probably not cheap to do the art design and production for separate boxes and booklets for the CD format. I can see why labels would be wary, when streaming is kicking the crap out of physical formats in general. Vinyl is only viable currently, because it’s consistently showing very strong year over year growth.

Steve

I agree with you, Paul. Thank you for posting this essential topic. I have not abandoned the compact disc format since it was introduced. I still buy new CD’s. I did have to largely abandon the vinyl LP because the record industry (major, indie labels, record stores) as a whole had abandoned records back when CD’s came in big time. I loved records. So, I was left with little to no choice to adapt over to CD’s. Now, they want to abandon CD’s and have gone back to LP’s which are priced way too high and, prohibit me from buying them. In some cases, these LP’s are mastered from digital sources instead of direct from analog when they were originally analog. Think about that. The prices for new LP’s and 7″ singles have really not come down in price as CD’s eventually did when their popularity and sales increased. The fact that the number of new record pressing plants have not increased in a large way that makes a difference is very suspect. The level of disrespect that the record industry has had for the CD format for the past 10+ years is despicable especially when one sees the care & consideration that they now give to new LP’s and vinyl box sets. Greed is greed when it comes to the record industry (major & indie) and with certain record stores which has gotten worse. Even Record Store Day has sadly devolved into a money grab for labels and stores in gouging music fans with high prices. If we all can push back and say that there’s room for all of these formats: CD’s, LP’s, and cassettes for us music fans who want something tangible it might have an effect.

T-Bone

This reminds me of in the 90’s when people were getting rid of their vinyl collections for CD’s. I was buying in some cases perfect LP’s for 50 cents to a dollar. Now it’s the same with CD’s.

Rett Russell

Excellent article.
The physical music product is driven ONLY by profit (with few exceptions).
As a former early 90’s music store owner (cds/vinyl) in Tampa, Florida your words resonated with me. My partners and I had the funding to go direct to the music companies (five at the time, WEA, UNI, SONY, etc.) so we paid the same price for product as Tower, HMV, Peaches, Circuit City, Best Buy. The music companies allowed big-box electronics stores to sell below-cost, which put all us mom-and-pop outfits out of business……all for the instant profit.
Additionally, as more cd manufacturing factories came online the cost to produce cds was slashed dramatically….but the music companies maintained high prices for back catalog albums….inevitably enabling Napster to be created.
Nothing has changed in the accounting department since Alexander Graham Bell….so we need articles like Paul’s to remind us that we music lovers must keep the torch lit……no one else will!

Keith

Lets face it there are better formats than Vinyl and CD.

Its a source of immense frustration when you want a blu ray for instance to have to dive in to a big box with Vinyl and possibly CD’s just to get what you want.

While I appreciate a Box set often its only the main album which comes on Vinyl while the bonus tracks all appear on CD. Thus the Vinyl Nut misses out on hearing the extras on his preferred format and the CD nut has to buy a redundant piece of plastic.

Its is so much better for all to release the formats separately. The mega fans will buy all formats anyway and the casual fans are more likely to buy a lower priced set.

For instance only a passing fan of Henry cow but blimey £80 buys 18 CDs in a box with a DVD imagine if you had to buy vinyl as well.

My preferred formats in Order are Blu Ray (preferably Surround) then CD then Download.
I do however understand that some people want Vinyl and that should be available.

I am also not a fan of record store day which seems to be entirely about making limited edition scalpers exclusives.

I also bought the Police box on CD too good a price not too, I wonder how many more CD boxes will be sold that the Vinyl Equivalent which I had no interest in.
One last though remember the days when CD was in its infancy Albums came out with extra tracks to entice the buyers in nowadays it seems vinyl is doing the same.

Will H

Very interesting article Paul and lots of strong points.

From the point of view of an independent reissue label, CDs can often be more profitable. Although the retail price is a lot less for CD, the manufacturing cost is considerably cheaper. For us, CDs weren’t initially part of the plan but we realised there was still a market for them and then decided to try to create something CD sized that had the feel of the LPs. Some hardcore fans obviously buy both formats but that wasn’t the reasoning.

Long term I’m sure there are some labels with big catalogues who would be happy with no physical formats at all. Everything available online means less staff, zero manufacturing costs, very low risk and so on. We will see how things play out over the next few years. It’s going to be interesting.

Gareth Jones

Labels like Jasmine and Ace Records put out amazing CD compilations with fairly thick booklets full of informative sleeve notes. Another thing streaming will never replace.

Michael

After further reading of the many postings in this interesting blog about CDs vs. LPs, I’ve noticed quite a few SDE subscribers expressed preference for the CD format, but enjoy the larger more attractive packaging of LPs, which is my sentiment. Some years ago I was able to find a few CDs that were housed in 12″ x 12″ LP sleeve replicas:
David Bowie “Heathen” in gate-fold jacket,
The Who “Live at Leeds” in gate-fold jacket including posters,
Free “Fire and Water” from Japan, and
The Who “Who’s Next” from Japan.

All four CD albums replicated the full size vinyl LP sleeves including all LP inserts. This to me was the best of both worlds — CD convenience with large attractive graphics. Even though these CDs in 12″ x 12″ album jackets were a little more money than a standard jewel case CD, they were in fact more affordable (and felt more satisfying) than buying a CD and a vinyl LP of the same album separately. I hope the music industry revisits this idea.

Soren

and Erasure – I Say I Say I Say (pop up castlle version)

Craig

Great article Paul!

You bring up the point I always make, but have not seen in actual media articles before, and that is the issue of CD players in cars.

Behind streaming, which will of course one day win this “format war”, the lack of CD players in the car is the main reason for declining sales for sure. If I still had one, I would still be playing CD’s daily, not to mention buying more of them. 2019 I bought the least amount of CDs since 1984, and all of them were some kind of reissue (Prince, etc.).

The next reason, and not really ever mentioned, is the lack of optical drives on computers and laptops. While many desktops still have them, it seems like (at least in the US) that most desktops are used in the work environment, where CD playing is not really practical. Most people are using laptops or tablets at home and there is no way to play CD’s or transfer music to an iTunes-like platform without getting a costly separate drive and hope it’s drivers are compatible with your laptop.

I could play CD’s through my home system via DVD/BluRay player, but honestly, I don’t have the time to devote to pure music listening at home anymore as I get older. That is why the car CD player was so important.

Honestly, I just hope the Seeds of Love deluxe box comes out before CD’s are stopped altogether. LOL

Kenneth Anselmi

Thanks for your candid comments Paul. Once CDs were properly mastered the sound has always been superior to my ears over vinyl. I love vinyl, but it deteriorated from the first time you start to play it. It is also ridiculously priced now. I prefer vinyl for artwork but I prefer CDs for a consistent superior sound.

Woodsey Niles

Agreed. I remember when CDs were a new medium and there were all kinds of horror stories about how quickly they physically deteriorate after a few months or years – cracking, warping, splitting layers, label ink bleed through, developing an opaque surface that will not track… To this day I have never had a single CD fail on me for any of these reasons. Scratching and skipping yes – but this was usually due to my own negligence. Perhaps it was the vinyl industry spreading these tales?

SimonP

I have at least half a dozen CDs that have failed. I have an Orb 2 part CD single and both discs are knackered! I’ve one or two that have gone brown and won’t play but the others look like the silver part has shattered.