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CD Sales Rose Last Year for the First Time in 20 Years – Was it a Good Year for Albums or Just a Spike for Physical Media?

The publication ‘Music Week’ recently reported that CDs in 2023 had hit their highest amount of sales since 2001. 

With $2.7 billion amounted, they were just 0.08% short of that 2001 record, which is quite the feat considering how streaming has become everyone’s go-to method of listening to music.

So why exactly has this happened? Could it be that albums released in 2023 were the best they have been for 22 years? Or is there something deeper at play here?

From Physical to Digital 

Of course, with CD sales hitting through the roof, and vinyl sales similarly seeing a resurgence in recent years, the first thing people will point to is a physical media revival – or perhaps even a revolution. 

Over the last couple of decades, a huge amount of previously physical entertainment forms have been absorbed into the online world. 

Digitisation was a key theme in the early 00s, when the world wide web became more freely accessible from home. Many industries embraced the digitisation that generated and grew at a high rate. The internet casino, for one, has raced to become a $70 billion industry, with a projected growth of $153 billion by 2030. Streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Plus have also taken over the movie industry, with most new cinema releases being released simultaneously online. 

At the same time, music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have become Goliaths of the music industry, with nearly 700 million subscribers worldwide choosing music streaming over actually owning a CD or vinyl.

The Question of Ownership

But it has to be said that music is quintessentially different to movies or gaming. While we might have a favourite casino game or a favourite movie, they don’t become part of our lives in the same way that music does. 

If you have a favourite album, the chances are you will listen to it every morning on your way to work. You’ll listen to it on the bus on the way home. You’ll listen to it while you shower, or you’ll put it on in the background while you cook.

Over the days and months, we form an emotional attachment to music that cannot be replicated by any other form of media. We own it spiritually, and so we have a deeper urge to own it physically too. 

Because streaming music is not owning music. If you own an album, it gets put on your shelf inside your home, and it’s yours. If you stream an album, it remains inside the cloud, never truly passing through the ether to become a part of your world. 

Or Perhaps…

Or perhaps this is all in our head, and albums in 2023 were just super good! There were some great releases, of course. Albums like Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS and Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd were big sellers and heavy hitters like Javelin by Sufjan Stevens and SOS by SZA took the world by storm. 

But were they any better than albums in 2022, or 2021? What about cultural benchmarks like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, or Adele’s 21 in 2011?

It can’t be said that the reason CD sales grew was because we haven’t had a musical year as good as 2001. Every year has had its own big sellers and hidden delights, but it’s only now that CDs are finding themselves in the spotlight again.

 For this reason, we have to assume that there’s a revolution going on. People like the convenience and ease of online media, but they don’t want to say goodbye to physical media entirely. 

CDs and vinyl will always be there, sitting on people’s shelves, wrapping up the emotional connection they have for music in a neat little bow. And for that, we’re grateful!