CD sales increase for the first time in 17 years


Against all expectations, the sale of CDs has picked up again in the United States and is doing well. A rise that had not occurred for 17 years, according to Billboard and the MRC Data institute. Several album releases explain this phenomenon, notably from Adele, Taylor Swift and BTS. Has the time come to break out your CD player?

disc, cd, compact disc
The resurgence in CD sales is all the more unexpected as it comes at a time when release schedules and record production have been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. – photo under Creative Commons license

Here is a change in direction that observers didn’t really expect anymore: the return of the compact disc, made possible by the releases of several recording giants. The format has been given a new lease of life when it was thought to be outdated, overwhelmed by digital music and streaming. As Billboard points out, CD sales have bounced back in the United States. A scenario that had not happened since 2004. As a result, 40.59 million units were sold in 2021 (up 1.1% from 2020).

Marantz CD-6007 CD player
The Marantz CD-6007 CD player adopts an optimized design to reduce unwanted vibrations and ensure optimal operation. It has analog and digital outputs to ensure a perfect match with any amplifier.

Unexpectedly, the phenomenon stems mostly from CD sales by Adele (898,000 copies for her album 30), Taylor Swift (713,000 copies for Evermore and the Fearless/Red reissues) and the K-pop group BTS (1.03 million copies with two albums in 2020). This winning trio alone represents 7.1% of all CD sales in the United States last year. Still, the surge in sales does not stop there. It also concerns back catalogs (albums that are two years old or more and regularly reissued), whose sales have risen by 1.4%. In 2004, the last time record sales ended the year on a rise, Usher, Eminem and Norah Jones were among the top-selling artists.

The return of the physical format

With the development of the Internet and the rise of illegal downloading, the CD had gradually disappeared in the 2000s, a far cry from the symbol it embodied in the 90s. Today, however, the ways people listen to music are changing. While streaming still dominates, formats continue to gain ground every year against platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Since 2010, vinyl sales have been increasing and are even reaching record highs. Their sales therefore exceeded those of CDs last year in the United States.

Records, CDs
With his fourth album Civilisation (nearly 100 000 CDs sold in one week), Orelsan was the best-selling artist of the year in France. – photo under Creative Commons license

In France, the market for physical formats is also picking up. Physical and digital sales generated 658 million euros in 2020 (the same level as in 2008), according to the SNEP (National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing). Although it is probably still too early to talk about a great comeback for the CD, the signs are still encouraging.

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Après quelques années dans la presse ciné (La Septième Obsession, L’E.F.…), j’ai rejoint l’équipe de Son-Vidé en 2021. Mordu de musique (rock, soul, jazz…) et de septième art (Herzog, Kubrick, P.T. Anderson…), je découvre l’univers de la hi-fi et du home-cinéma entre curiosité et fascination. En attendant de trouver la place pour profiter de mes vinyles (Zappa, Talking Heads…), je peux compter sur mes enceintes Sonos One. L’occasion d’explorer les plateformes de musique dématérialisée, à la croisée souvent de PJ Harvey et Coltrane.

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