Happy Halloween – Physical formats are back from the dead

November 2015

Recorded music


By Leeza Panayiotou LLB(Hons)


There is a terrible monster of which many speak. They say this monster is worse than anything that went before. They say it never sleeps and has left nothing but ruin and destruction in its wake. They speak of the empires it has crushed and the things it has murdered with fear in their eyes.   This monster’s name? The internet.
Plenty of people have gravely accused the internet of slowing murdering the music industry. And while one of those people was Kanye West, that view point was so well regarded that for a time, it was heralded as something of a prophecy – the music industry would soon be dead and physical formats would be the first to go.
This then morphed into the view that, excluding piracy (as pirates don’t pay anyway), digital consumption would come in and obliterate physical sales. So many people pronounced physical formats dead at the scene of the Spotify app.
Much like their predecessors of new consumption formats/methods (think Cassettes, CD’s and mini-discs), streaming and digital downloads were blamed for more stuff than I have the time to write about. The physical doomsday envisioned a vinyl, cassette and CD-less world, run amok by the internet’s ever wider reaching ghoulish grasp.
But it turns out that particular horror story had less teeth than first thought.  While there may be a decline in music industry revenue overall , digital hasn’t stamped out physical sales. In fact it was only in 2014 that digital sales even managed to match those of physical sales , with both of them taking 46% of sales each IFPI .


Moreover, the good ol’ Vinyl has some life in it yet. Despite accounting for only 2% of overall industry income, it’s sales are steadily rising , shifting 1.3 million units in the UK alone last year  – not bad for being ‘dead’.
In fact, the vinyl is doing so well it isn’t interested in being “confined to one particular age group. Parents are getting their old vinyl albums down from the loft and teenagers are discovering the joys of the 12 inch record for the first time” .
Unfortunately though, it would appear that hipsters are yet to consider the vinyl’s successors, the cassette tape and CD so uncool that they must re-love it and make it cool again (before everyone else) as they don’t seem to have fared as well as the vinyl.
In the first half of 2015, RIAA reported a 31.4% drop in CD sales when compared to the same period in 2014. But before you go and mourn the CD, it was reported that these sales were still enough to beat freemium and subscription revenues in the same period.
Across physical sales overall, it seems that territory has an important role to play, with physical sales on the up in Paraguay and Venezuela, and just a 1.5% dip in physical sales in Germany in comparison to a global 8.1% decline in physical sales value in 2014.
With the messages getting so mixed it’s hard to tell if we’re tricking or treating.
It may be digital’s time to really shine and supersede physical formats, but even if no one “can see beyond streaming…so [streaming] looks like a final destination” , it doesn’t mean that it is nor that physical formats need to shrivel up and die as a result.
Perhaps like the vinyl, when the CD has had a few more birthdays, it too will become the cool, you-won’t-believe-the-stories-they-have, sleeve of information having grandparent that people forgot about and kids found out about. Perhaps there will always be a fashionable cycle of formats, that get recycled as much as bomber jackets and big hair. Maybe that old Destiny’s Child CD will sell for a vintage mint at an even more vintage car boot to a kid wearing vintage Nike on a hoverboard with a vintage Walkman.
In any event, the physical format has yet to die. And whether hindsight might show it was clinging on for dear life while I was writing this, I won’t be giving away my CDs just yet.


©  Leeza Panayiotou 2015



















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