Album Sales Fall, Of Course

from the who-didn't-expect-that dept

This will come as no surprise to anyone, of course, but the only significant area of the music business that is struggling is, once again, CD sales. Bloomberg has noted that album sales in the US declined 14% in 2008. Of course, digital sales continued to grow, and, as recently noted, the concert business is booming. Oddly enough, sales of vinyl records continue to rise — a trend we noted last summer. To be honest, the fact that album sales only dropped by 14% seems rather surprising. If I were in the business of selling mostly obsolete plastic discs, I’d be thrilled they only dropped that much.

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Comments on “Album Sales Fall, Of Course”

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Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

When will they get a clue?

Most people do not buy CD’s. I am one of those people that back in the day of the first cds I bought a ton. I had over 1400 cd’s in my collection. I have since moved to digital only. Why because I know that no matter what happens I have a copy of the music. No melting in the heat of the car or getting scratched where it will not play. I can buy it once and play it where ever. And forever. Or close to it. Why, because I have a 1 and 0 exact copy. So if this CD wears out I just burn a new one. iTunes has over $1000 dollars of my money for that reason. Infinite goods for a small fee.

David T says:

Rise and fall of empires...

I was talking with a non-techie friend about how CD sales were tanking and he said that he doesn’t buy CDs anymore because it’s too challenging to get the songs on his iPod. He would rather just buy digital files from iTunes and not have to worry about it.

The curious part is that whenever you hear an industry spokesperson or even most print media articles talk about declining CD sales there is an almost unconscious insinuation that piracy is the underlying reason. No one seems to consider that the “new” media is digital, and that a decline in “old” media is as natural as the decline in cassette media when CDs became the media of choice.

I wonder if it has to do with the “new” media being a non-physical vehicle…

Evil Mike says:

CD Collection

I kind of like having a physical CD (but then, I also like having books…) as a master-copy of the music. I open it once, rip the media to my computer once, and then never open the CD case again–except in the event of something to my computer and all my backups simultaneously; in which case, I open it once more, rip it again…

…he doesn’t buy CDs anymore because it’s too challenging to get the songs on his iPod.

Ya know, iTunes will rip the CD for you… or you can rip the media yourself and then just add it to iTunes.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: CD Collection

The increase in vinyl sales should be no surprise. Vinyl continues to have greater fidelity than digital and will probably continue to have greater fidelity until something changes in digital.

I guess I am also a dinosaur. I find digital formats annoying. I like having CD’s and probably (subject to further changes in technology) always will. I think the risk of losing all my files keeps my from putting all those eggs in one basket. I had a friend lose two hard drives in a row last year…there went all his digital music.

fprintf says:

Re: Re: CD Collection

Vinyl may have greater fidelity, but with the compression used on most modern music during the mastering phase you don’t get any benefit. The only music that seems to get a benefit, because of smart engineering, is classical and independent. Heck, even the “remastered” and rereleased old albums have been compressed.

On the other hand, from years of playing music way too loud and from shooting without hearing protection, I find MP3 quality is just fine. Occasionally I’ll notice clipping, but for the most part the earbuds don’t have great fidelity anyway.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re: CD Collection

Ahhhh…I only have original vinyl, none of the “compressed” stuff. I still listen to the vinyl, though frequent playing has generated some snap, crackle and pop. I am amazed every time I play vinyl and compare it to CD. The frequency response from the vinyl is noticeably better.

I mostly play over speakers, and try to keep the volume reasonable to keep my hearing. Ear buds are just hearing problems waiting to happen, and their fidelity stinks, as you noted.

a non e mous says:

Re: Re: CD Collection

Excuse me while I choke on my coffee!

All that is happening with currently produced vinyl is a transfer from an intermediate digital master.

Almost everything currently recorded in large professional studios is captured and engineered in digital, before being mixed down to a digital master. Anything currently released on vinyl, including back-catalogue releases of older pre-digital era music, has been transferred via a digital medium during the manufacturing process.

All of which makes the old “golden-ears” argument of analogue-is-better-than-digital very redundant indeed.

The only way you bypass digital in any part of the performance/recording/playback process when using vinyl records of current release, is to buy only that stuff which is guaranteed to be completely analogue at every stage. Those recordings have always been a niche item, and now would be almost if not completely extinct.

As to your comment about vinyl having greater fidelity:

This may be true of you use audiophile quality analogue playback equipment (such as top quality turntables, styli/cartridge, tone-arms and preamps etc) and compare it to average consumer grade CD-based hifi gear. In other words, it’s like comparing apples to oranges: best-of-breed on one hand versus Walmart quailty on the other.

Very few people indeed can afford $5000 or more for their turntable, let alone another $5000 for the pre-amp, amp, speaker combo to match the turntable and sytul. Even fewer would go to the trouble of precise setup and installing a dedicated listening enviroment to achieve optimum sound reproduction.

Compare a cheap affordable turntable with a cheap affordable CD player, like the rest of us, and digital wins hands down, provided that it is CD quality.

However, if you are comparing vinyl to the squeezed-down crap digital sound that is iTunes, then I will concede that you make a valid point…

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re: CD Collection

a non e mous:

I have reproduced most of my vinyl collection, which dates back to the 1960’s, on CD. Without exception, the vinyl (none of which is newer than about 1985) sounds better than the CD’s that “replaced” them. I say replaced in quotes because the vinyl has better response, especially bass response, on my el cheapo turn table than the CD’s do in my better quality CD player.

I doubt any of my vinyl ever saw a 1 or a 0.

Scott Gardner (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: CD Collection

On paper, CD beats vinyl hands-down. Better frequency response, wider dynamic range (potentially, at least – more on that later), no surface noise, no wow/flutter, etcetera.

The problem with CDs is in the mastering, not the physical medium. I have a lot of duplicates in my collection (same album on vinyl and CD). When I record the two versions to Audacity or a similar program, in every case, the dynamic range of the CD has been intentionally compressed, reducing the difference between the peaks and valleys in the signal to raise the overall volume level, often by as much as 6-8 dB. This makes the CD versions almost tiring to listen to over time compared to the vinyl versions.

I’ve even noticed a difference between different CD pressings. I have a few Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs gold CDs, and they sound better than the equivalent regular mass-market CD pressings, not because of any physical difference in the CDs themselves, but because of how they’re mastered. They’re not as compressed, so there’s more of a volume difference between the loud passages and the soft passages. It makes them harder to listen to in the car, because I’m constantly having to raise the volume for the soft parts and lowering it back down for the loud parts, but for listening in my living room, the MFSL CDs are *much* nicer.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re:2 CD Collection


I read somewhere that record companies deliberately compressed the music to give it more volume and make it easier to hear throughout the songs. I could barely imagine “The 1812 Overture” treated in this way, but that is exactly what is done to rock albums.

While CD’s may be better on paper, the quality of the equipment playing the CD is critical, as you are probably aware. Reproducing analog sound has always been cheaper. Trying to convert digital sound to high quality analog is a tougher challenge, and requires better equipment; certainly better than ear buds.

nasch says:

Re: Re: Re:2 CD Collection

Thank you, that makes perfect sense. As I said I’ve never seen any numbers supporting LP over CD, or any explanation of the mechanics that would allow LP sound reproduction to be better. In fact I got in a big long argument on /. once with a guy claiming that LP is better, but he was unable to provide any objective measurements. His argument boiled down to “I think it sounds better”, which I don’t find convincing.

However, I’ve heard a lot about sound compression, and it’s gotten a lot more extreme in recent decades, so naturally old recordings would sound better to someone who doesn’t like compression because they’re not compressed, not because they’re on LP. And your explanation is great – just because you buy the same album on CD and LP doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same thing.

As for the guy who transferred LPs to CD and doesn’t like the quality, there are numerous questions about what’s going on. First, not to say you’re wrong but it’s clearly subjective and it would be interesting to get objective measurements. Second, we don’t know anything about the transfer process. How good was the software? Maybe the programmers made assumptions that don’t apply to your setup or something. Finally, it’s a sample size of 1. Interesting though.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

Re: Re: Re:3 CD Collection


You may find these links interesting as well…

Quote from this site:

This means that the waveforms from a vinyl recording can be much more accurate, and that can be heard in the richness of the sound.

So, what is the bottom line? Technically, CD may be the superior format. However, that is kind of like saying that the blueprints for your house are better than a photograph that uses film speed, shutter speed, aperture, and light to capture an image of your house. Which is better? I guess the answer depends on what you are looking for.

I recently pulled out a bunch of records I had not played in a while, but I had played the CD’s frequently. The vinyl was significantly different, and, in to my ears, better. Yes, there were some snaps, crackles and pops. Yes, the sound was perhaps “muddier,” but it also had a sound that CD has yet to duplicate. Now, it could also be that compression affected the CD’s, but I do not know.

No one will ever definitively answer the CD vs. vinyl debate, because it depends on your criteria.

That is the best answer I can provide!

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: CD Collection

I think the risk of losing all my files keeps my from putting all those eggs in one basket. I had a friend lose two hard drives in a row last year…there went all his digital music.

i moved to a new file server and didn’t check that my music was properly backed up so it’s gone. which is a shame cuz i had about a hundred gigs in music alone. thankfully you can always just download it again 🙂

Steve P says:


I am pretty entrenched in the digital world, but I refuse to buy music digitally, due to DRM restrictions. My home computer is a dual boot Vista/Debian and my work computer is Ubuntu, plus I have an iPod. Due to switching back and forth across platforms, I cannot reliably connect up to the iTunes authentication server, and I have not yet found a good online store that doesn’t have DRM.

Instead, I buy the physical CD, rip it a single time (always rip on Linux, no rootkits for me, thank you very much Sony), store the CD so it won’t be damaged later, and then transfer that song to all my devices.

Luke says:


I still buy CDs (and Vinyl) due to sound quality. I know most people can’t hear the difference but I can…which is why I still use a Mini-disc player too. Good god I sound old for 23….
That being said I have a few cheap MP3 players for walking around and work music but if I need sound quality…Mini-disc or original CD.

But I do get weird looks when buying CDs…maybe I just look weird though.

tubes says:

Re: Meh

OK with vinyl I’ll agree with having a superior sound but after that you’re completely wrong about everything else you have stated.
Anything that is in a digital format sounds bad & you being a so called audiophile should hear it. It doesn’t matter if your listening to a CD, a MP3 player or your outdated mini-disc player they all sound like shit. But as long as you convert your CDs in a high bitrate you should not notice a difference between a CD & an mp3.
Now with Blu-ray becoming more popular they will start making compression free audio discs which will sound as good as an album. I might start buying physical discs again.

Anonymous Coward says:

I buy CDs, but that’s for a number of reasons:

1) I don’t see the music I like being sold as FLACs. I’m pretty sensitive to compression, which is a curse, not a blessing.

2) I like having a shiny disc, because there’s no retroactive DRM nonsense, as long as you put it on your PC with all of that autorun, rootkit-enabling junk installed.

3) I like having liner notes, lyrics, etc.

I’ll stick with them for the time being.

Doc (user link) says:

CD sales

I usually buy digital music now days. Not from Itunes though, Amazon and E-music is where I shop for my music. Yes, I’ll borrow a CD from a friend and rip it on the odd occasion, but at some point I end up getting “legal” copies of the songs. Not because I fear the RIAA or any of that, but because I do believe the artist should get paid. I support local music as much as I can (and play in a local metal band in Richmond, Va) so when a good local band produces a DYI CD yeah I’ll shell out for it. Not for the CD mind you, but to support the band directly. Same thing with national touring acts I like. I’ll buy their latest release at the show because more of the money makes it to their pocket! Granted, I like a lot in independent punk and metal bands. So I am not your average music consumer.

boost says:

Electronic songs are a rip-off

You spend what 15 dollars on the actual cd? But if you buy it online via digital form, it still costs like 10-15 dollars and you get it in some dilluted digital format like .mp3 or some DRM protected format. It might be better if you could buy it on flac, but still with the cd you get a real mastered copy for about the same price.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anyone who thought vinyl was dead should see how many records sells. They sell nearly $100,000 worth or records per month on eBay alone, and that doesn’t include sales from their website and the records they list on other sites such as

I think has got the right idea. Nothing better than listening to an album with three songs that are cut in half by the track change.

cram says:

“…but the only significant area of the music business that is struggling is, once again, CD sales.”

Perhaps pricing is an issue here. If CDs cost a third of what they do now, maybe sales would increase, but then revenues will likely won’t.

“Of course, digital sales continued to grow..”

Oh…so selling infinite goods is not a stupid idea after all. Every day one learns something new here.

“If I were in the business of selling mostly obsolete plastic discs, I’d be thrilled they only dropped that much.”

Well, I suppose one should give people a reason to buy obsolete CDs, like Reznor did. That’s the problem with these damn RIAA guys — they don’t give people a reason to buy CDs.

october man says:

We can blame all of the people who refuse to PAY for music for the decline of cd sales and the death of the independent musician. We can also blame the music industry at large for not doing anything about this. IT WILL ALWAYS BE WRONG TO STEAL OR HAVE THE MAJORITY OF OUR SOCIETY CONVENIENTLY FORGOTTEN THIS?!?!

No one in the right mind prefers to listen IN compressed files as opposed to music the way it was naturally intended to be heard – on vinyl or cd – in FULL FIDELITY – unless you are of the culture that steals things and tells themselves they have the right to do so.

iTunes? Forget it. If you believe that musicians are earning a decent living from iTunes & live venue sales then you are incredibly deluded.

I want my music in the most audiophile setting as possible. I WILL continue to support artists who have given they’re all for very little in return. I WILL continue to buy vinyl & cd’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You are clueless.. most artists selling their files directly through itunes get more money per track than they would from a CD sale through a major record company.

People started downloading pirated music because the big labels got too greedy and pocketed most of their profits without giving artists their share.
Most artists don’t even make ONE dollar per CD a $15 CD.. tell me if that is not a rip off..

Who is robbing who? who is stealing from the artists?
at least a lot of people who download music go and support the artists by seeing them play live, which is a lot more than big record companies will do for them!

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