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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Did You Know?

In 2009, Compact Discs accounted for 78.9% of all albums sold.
While media outlets focus primarily on the closing gap between physical album and digital music sales in terms of Overall Industry Revenue, the reality is that CDs remain the dominant product in the music industry. Check out the following information culled from data collected by Nielsen SoundScan, “an information system that tracks sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada” and distributed to Universal Music¹.

Key Industry Year-End Data for 2009
  • CDs accounted for 78.9% of all albums sold, while digital albums only made up 20.4% of sales.
  • Taylor Swift sold 5.4 million albums in 2009 with 89% of those albums being physical CDs and only 11% being digital.
  • Susan Boyle sold 3.2 million albums in 2009 with 97% of those albums being physical CDs and only 3% being digital.
  • Top 10 album sales for CDs was up 14.3% over 2008, meaning consumers are buying CDs and more of them.
Revenue in the digital avenue is track-driven, meaning consumers purchase and download single tracks for their music library. However, when it comes to obtaining entire albums, consumers are significantly more likely to purchase physical music albums in the form of CDs than download an entire album.

So what is it about CDs?
Why are consumers—and therefore your patrons—continuing to turn to CD albums over digital music albums?
  • CDs often provide lyrics, graphics, and supplemental content that digital tracks do not.
  • CDs cannot be lost in common hard drive crashes or data dumps like digital tracks.
    • They also serve as an invaluable backup for those who import their CDs into their computer music libraries.
  • While most cars nowadays have CD players, a smaller amount offer outlets for digital music players.
  • CDs on average cost less than downloading entire albums. 
    • For example, The New York Times reported in April of 2009 that the average cost of a music track download was increasing from $.99 to $1.29, which would therefore inflate the cost per album from an average of $9.99 to $13.99².
    • Additionally, in a recent post on, Joe Wilcox criticized the rising cost of downloads on iTunes, stating “recently, iTunes pricing has gotten wicked crazy…I got to taste the insanity early this afternoon, when finding a new album selling for about 8 bucks more for the iTunes digital download than the CD…”³.
  • Finally, digital music consists of compressed, encoded files. CDs feature uncompressed music at the highest quality. As Joe Wilcox explains:

    Apple isn't just charging more, it's doing so for a comparatively inferior product. Music fans can argue the merits of AmazonMP3's 256kbps MP3 encoding compared to Apple's 256kbps AAC. But there's no argument about lossless, uncompressed Compact Disc Digital Audio format and its 1,411kbps bitrate³.
So what does all this mean for you, the librarian?
While there’s no denying that digital music might be the way of the future, as proven above, there’s still quite a bit of shelf-life on physical product, especially music albums on CD. Midwest Tape Vice President Jeff Jankowski agrees completely, explaining that “libraries have a virtual monopoly as the only outlets that loan CDs and should protect this competitive advantage by maintaining quality collections.”



  1. very interesting. I think we sometimes forget that digital music downloads only really work over high speed Internet connections & not all areas have access to high speed Internet (nor do all people want to pay for the service!). Our library looked into a few of the more popular audiobook download service providers and it was just not cost effective for our system to subscribe to the service when the majority of our population could only access it from the library computers because they lack access to high speed Internet.

  2. oh, and another note.. I floated the idea of not purchasing music cds for our library collection anymore because 'they were just not circulating'. The idea was NOT met with enthusiasm from the other staff members in the meeting and several staff contacted me afterwards with proof that music CDs still circulate well. I learned my lesson - never state something without the proof to back it up!!

  3. Jenny,
    Thank you so much for making the point about high speed internet connections. There are still many parts of the U.S. without access to high speed internet. This is definitely a benefit of CDs--no high speed internet necessary to listen and enjoy!

    What do other libraries think? What experiences have you encountered?

    Glad to hear CDs continue to circulate well, Jenny. Thanks for the comment!


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