How Many CDs Sell Each Year?
Alex Cosper (7/19/13)

CD sales began declining in 2000 after peaking in 1999. Some of the factors that led to this decline were: 1) online music piracy, 2) new technology competing for consumers' leisure time, 3) the inability of the major record labels to provide a steady stream of relevant music, 4) distrust of the music business and 5) court cases revealed a price fixing scheme that burned music buyers. After five major labels began to dominate a high percentage of music on the charts and the airwaves, music fans began to notice a lot of music began to sound the same.

Once people could download a lot of music for free, whether it was legal or illegal, the idea of purchasing music began to fall out of fashion. But in 2003 Apple helped revive the music industry with the iTunes Music Store, which offered legal digital downloads. By 2012 digital downloads had revivaled CDs in overall sales. The total number of units sold that year was 1.65 billion, according to a Nielsen Soundscan report published in Billboard. The top selling album that year was Adele's 21, for the second year in a row. Her album sold 4.4 million units for all configurations, including digital, in 2012.

Total physical CD sales in 2012 dropped from the previous year to under 200 million units. Overall units were up 3 percent to 1.6 billion units, mostly due to the steady growth of digital downloads. The decline of the CD has been an ongoing trend throughout the 21st century. It is difficult to see it rebounding, since a new generation has now grown up without investing a lot in CDs, other than for storing computer files.

There is nothing that shocking about falling CD sales. It echoes a pattern that has been going on since the recording industry began in the late 19th century, in which new technology replaces old technology. The vinyl record, however, has made somewhat of a comeback in the 21th century, partly due to its wider dynamic sound, which is embraced by independent artists and their fans. The CD was an improved technology from vinyl only from certain perspectives, such as storage and durability. Many music fans claim that CDs don't sound as real as vinyl, although vinyl does wear out faster, in which hiss, pops and scratches add noise to the listening experience.

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