40 years ago, on August 17, 1982, the world’s first compact disc, a copy of ABBA’s “The Visitors” was produced at a Philips factory in Germany, marking the beginning of a new era for the music industry. Jointly developed by Philips and Sony, the CD was originally designed to hold 60 minutes of audio with a disc diameter of 115mm. However, the capacity was eventually extended to 74 minutes and a diameter of 120 mm to accommodate a full performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. At least so the legend goes.
The advent of the CD also marks the beginning of the digital music era, even if the bits and bytes of the CD era were still constrained to a physical medium. That is unlike today’s digital music, which is no longer bound to physical laws and instead beamed to our phones in what mere mortals can only describe as mid-level sorcery. Speaking of sorcery, there used to be a certain magic in unpacking a new CD that you had just bought from your hard-earned money. A process that made you appreciate albums in a way that appears to be lost in the age of streaming services
Amid all the talk of music streaming and the renaissance of vinyl, the continued decline of CD sales hasn’t been getting a lot of attention in recent years. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), CD album sales in the United States have dropped by 95 percent since peaking in 2000 and are currently at their lowest level since 1986, when Whitney Houston's self-titled debut album topped the Billboard charts.
Having been hit by the rise of filesharing and MP3 players in the early 2000s, CD sales nearly halved between 2000 and 2007, which is when smartphones and the first music streaming services emerged to put the final nail in the compact disc’s little round coffin. In 2021, there was a glimpse of life, however, as new albums and re-releases from major artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift and BTS caused CD sales to increase for the first time in almost 20 years.