The Long, Lingering Death of the CD

The Grammy winning packaging for Tool’s album, 10,000 Days, art directed by band member Adam Jones. Photo by Josh Janicek

Best Buy to Pull CDs from Retail Stores

It’s been at least a year, maybe two since I bought a physical CD. As someone who’s library was at one point pushing the 1,000 unit mark, I find that fascinating.

I held on to my CDs for a long time, even after subscribing to Apple Music. I finally unloaded them all to a collector a few months ago for a painstakingly low sum when contrasted against the sentimental value they had for me. But the value was just that, sentimental.

At some point I bought in to the subscription music model. I still believe in supporting the artists in whatever way I can. Regrettably, the current music landscape has shifted so that artists no longer make the most of their money on sales – their money comes from touring and live shows – something I rarely take in anymore. Though I was – and continue to be -at odds with how artists are paid by streaming services, I had at some point to simply give up, and hope that somewhere, somehow, there were people working to make sure that artists were fairly paid for licensing their work to steaming services. History and a gut feeling about the industry tells me that the reality is, they probably aren’t.

I used to spend hours with new CDs. When I got a new CD from a favorite artist, I poured over photos, liner notes and detritus for clues about the artist and the music the album contained. I loved seeing new and innovative ways to package CDs – jewel cases, paper folios, gatefold packaging and the like. I believe there’s even a Grammy handed out for best packaging – what will become of that now?

I wonder if there will ever be a resurgence of CD interest in the same way there has been vinyl, but I doubt it. There simply isn’t the same attraction. I was a ‘middle’ kid – I discovered music in the age of the cassette and subsequently the CD, so vinyl never held the same nostalgic feel for me, but CDs do.

I wonder how my kids and future kids will develop their relationships with music and the artists in a world where physical product has become extinct and the emphasis has become more on ‘quick-hits’ vs. albums and artists are becoming increasingly more ‘flash in the pan’ and a disposable commodity.

When I dumped my CD collection, there were some I refused to get rid of. My Rush catalogue – simply because they’ve been my favorite band consistently over the years. Some CDs by friends or local artists that aren’t available online anywhere. Then there are bands like Tool, who’ve never licensed their albums to be on iTunes/Apple Music for example. I kept all my Tool CDs. With rumors of a new Tool album sometime in the future, one wonders if they will maintain that stance. If they’re committed, one wonders how they would release new material. Digital download direct sales? Will they actually produce physical product? An interesting question as they have consistently been a band who was at the forefront of design, packaging and presentation throughout the years.

Many artists are now releasing ‘pre-order’ packages for albums or digital downloads that still include physical copies of the album – either on CD or Vinyl, along with a download code, in addition to other select, sometimes exclusive, merchandise. Perhaps this will become the norm. One wonders at what point though, the production of physical product will become a financial liability to the point that it isn’t worth the expense and it will disappear all together.

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