It started as a genuine question after seeing an unlikely chart battle between Stormzy and Cliff Richard unfolding last week and ended with a Twitter poll with over a thousand responses. Who the hell is buying CDs in 2022?
Us Picky Bastards are well versed in arguments about physical media vs Streaming. We all listen to music in both ways (a lot more than a regular person should), but we are a set of very particular Bastards, surely we don’t represent the bulk of the population. We’ve spoken a few times about Vinyl before, but as big of a market those big round discs are forging in 2022, CDs still sell way beyond this amount week in week out. Last week 551,812 physical album sales were registered by the Official Charts Company, which is just less than 25% of the total album sales market including downloads and streaming. This included over 20,000 copies of that Cliff Richard Christmas album on CD, good luck to all of the Nan’s out there opening their stocking on Christmas Day.
So the question I posed over on Twitter was simple:
I have a question for an article I'm thinking of writing so please RT etc so I can get as accurate a picture as possible:— Sam Atkins (@Atkins_Sam) December 3, 2022
Have you bought a physical CD in 2022?
(If yes reply and let me know what it was/why you bought it or CDs in general)
Have you bought a CD in 2022?
The results align surprisingly nicely with that 25% physical vs digital split as of the 1020 responses I had, 306 people said they ha4d bought a CD this year. That’s exactly 30% of the people in my poll which I think makes sense alongside those official numbers.
Of course we already knew people were buying CDs, but why? I can answer that personally for the 10 or so CDs I’ve purchased in 2022. For me I’m Vinyl obsessed, but quite often video game soundtracks never make it to Vinyl – or do so in obscenely limited runs. There’s also a handful of compilations that I personally think work better on CD than a 17 disc £200 vinyl boxset; the Madonna Remix Collection I’m listening to as I write this is a prime example.
My reasons don’t mean much here, especially now that I have literally hundreds of people telling me exactly why they have bought a CD, or lots of CDs in 2022. So without going full data analyst on everyone, I’ve picked out some of the main reasons I could find that someone would even consider buying a CD in 2022. (Plus the best Word Cloud you’ll see this side of a customer service presentation)
The overall sentiment from most people was that CDs offer something tangible that a stream or a download of an album simply can’t give a listener. This is absolutely true of Vinyl too, there’s something about that single purchase of an ‘album’ that makes it a more complete piece of work for a listener. I was fascinated by the idea that people suggested they find it easier to actually make it all the way through an ‘album’ on a CD than while streaming, perhaps I underestimate just how hard Spotify and the like are pushing users to playlists and that infamous shuffle button.
There’s also the idea that someone can’t take away your ability to listen to an album if you own it physically. While music being dropped from streaming platforms is certainly less prevalent than say films leaving Netflix etc. it is a genuine worry for fans of more obscure music. It’s especially true for music from outside the US in particular as streaming platforms seem so America focused in 2022, or for any genres where physical media is truly the only place you can find it. For new releases what’s to say it won’t be deleted from Apple Music 10 years from now?
Can you imagine someone in the 80s reading this article as we look at reasons why someone is choosing to buy a CD instead of a vinyl when the list of reasons back then would have been so obvious? The divide in entry price for music has never been as split as it is in 2022 though, with Vinyl becoming so expensive to manufacture and distribute (in a timely fashion anyway) that it’s rare for a new release to come into shops for less than £25, £35 for anything by a very high profile artist.
Pretty much everyone that responded said that if the choice is between paying £30 for a new Vinyl release or paying a tenner for the CD then the cheaper price wins every time. It’s a point that leads nicely into the next group of responses, as while I’m no economist, I imagine the profit margin on a CD in 2022 way exceeds that of a Vinyl.
Supporting Artists/Gig Merch
Supporting artists was an idea so many people mentioned, it’s probably where the ‘music fan’ and general public split. Looking at the artists people were mentioning, yes there were a few Taylor Swifts or Arctic Monkeys, but mostly they were artists I’ve never heard, local bands or just more ‘independent’ artists. One person said that the CD they bought was of a support act at a show as they enjoyed the performance so much. I imagine some of us use ‘supporting the artist’ as a bit of an excuse as our music collection grows and grows, but there’s a reason why it’s a driving factor for so many to buy a CD of someone they like, that’s worth more to an artist than 100 of your streams.
It’s a similar sentiment to Merch at Gigs or buying music from Bandcamp and similar places, where you are trying to be a ‘good fan’ and ensure more of your money goes directly to the artist. Quite a few people mentioned that they will listen to music on streaming, but for albums and artists they really like and specifically want to support that’s when they’ll buy a CD.
Audiophiles better not come for me if I open this can of worms, but for quite a lot of people who responded, the quality of recording on a CD is simply better than you can get elsewhere. Streaming is the obvious comparison and one that doesn’t take an expert ear or a £3k HiFi system to appreciate, but that’s exactly why CDs made sense in the first place. Yes, I’m a dickhead who actually prefers the sound on some of my vinyl records, but at the same time like so many people I don’t have the ridiculously high end system to make it truly sound ‘better’ than the quality I get from a CD. For most people, especially anyone where the music is the priority and not the thing you are playing it through, CDs seem to be as good as it gets.
This last group just puts everything in perspective a bit, as we like to imagine technology is all moving at such a pace that surely everyone is streaming Spotify in their cars via Bluetooth in 2022, but so many people said the only reason they bought a CD this year was to listen in the car. A handful of people said this got them even more into the few CDs they did have, listening over and over again without the endless choice an Aux connection might give you. I just hope that this isn’t why anyone bought that Cliff at Christmas album on CD.
So it’s perhaps not as simple as I originally thought but to hear from so many people on what their growing CD collection means to them, or lack of CDs for that matter, has been a genuine pleasure. I’d love to hear from even more people, in the comments below especially, on what albums you’ve bought this year on CD and why that happened in the first place. For now I’ll leave you all with my own (very messy and disorganized) CD collection.
Words by Sam Atkins