CD sales just soared for the first time in nearly two decades

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US CD sales for 2021 are up for the first time in nearly two decades, according to data published by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Shipments grew from 31.6 million in 2020 to 46.6 million in 2021, and the format’s revenue increased from $483.2 million to $584.2 million. The RIAA figures confirm a similar report from MRC Data published earlier this year.

While CD sales are still a long way from the peak of 2000—when nearly a billion CD albums were shipped in the US—Axios notes that the increase is another key element of the physical music revival. Vinyl sales have been steadily increasing for more than a decade and a half now, reaching 39.7 million units in the US in 2021, generating $1 billion in sales.

The largest source of revenue in the US in 2021 was paid subscriptions worth $8.6 billion. Image: RIAA

As a result of the combination, physical media as a whole experienced the first increase in turnover since 1996, but streaming remains king. Paid subscriptions accounted for 57.2 percent of revenue, measured by the RIAA at $8.6 billion in 2021, while ad-supported streams brought in $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, sales of CDs and vinyl albums together accounted for less than 11 percent of sales.

Personally, I’ll be very interested to see if this CD revival specifically continues as the world emerges from two years of pandemic lockdowns. CDs are great for listening to music at home, but I haven’t seen anyone carry a cumbersome portable CD player in years. And while vinyl offers a different sound than digital music, CDs contain digital music essentially identical to what’s offered by lossless music services from Apple and Amazon (but crucially not Spotify).

On the other hand, CDs still offer something that purely digital services can only dream of: a beautiful physical object, complete with album covers and a real sense of ownership. Plus, there’s the feeling that more of your money goes directly to an artist, rather than the pennies streaming companies offer per piece.

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