The compact disc is celebrating its 40th anniversary this August. After completely supplanting vinyl in the 1980s and 1990s, the medium was declared dead a decade ago with the advent of digital and the resurgence of microgroove. But now the CD is enjoying an unexpected resurgence in popularity among music lovers.
Inflated by ever-increasing demand from collectors, the price of vinyl has skyrocketed in recent years and even more so in recent months. Music lovers who still want to hold a physical version of the albums they have listened to are therefore increasingly turning to the good old CD.
“A used CD costs about 5 dollars. It’s a bit more expensive for niche styles like rap and metal. But it’s still a lot more affordable than vinyl, which is overpriced. People walked in fear and every year it gets worse. The price keeps going up,” laments Jean-François Ouimet, owner of the Musique Cité in Sherbrooke.
Founded in 1958, Quebec’s oldest independent record store is set to close in a few months, particularly as the business is struggling to keep up with online record resale. On classifieds sites, the average vinyl retails for around $20. Some collectibles sell for more than $100.
This overheating of the vinyl market not only has an impact on the second-hand record market, but also on new releases. While Quebec artists have resumed the habit of releasing their new works on this medium, some today no longer have the means to produce LPs for their fans. Such is the case with singer Jérôme Minière, whose latest album The melody, the river and the night, is only commercially available on CD. Printing would have taken a year of waiting.
“You have to wait between 10 and 14 months for a vinyl. It’s been piling up for a long time, but last year it picked up momentum with Adele’s latest album monopolizing many pressing plants with the printing of 500,000 copies at a time. Everyone fell behind and the big record companies got stuck pressing plantswhich left little room for more independent artists,” explains Jean-François Rioux, owner of the Le Vacarme boutique in Plaza Saint-Hubert.
For Luc Bérard, owner of the boutique L’Oblique since 1987, it is essentially the price of vinyl that explains the sudden rebirth of the compact disc, and not any sense of nostalgia. The CD player will never be as shiny as the turntable. “Vinyl will always be more valuable to collectors. Partly because of the size of the covers,” emphasizes the record store in Montreal.
And yet music lovers would have good reason to miss the days when the CD was the most popular format. Because everyone agrees that the sound quality on disc is immeasurably better than on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.
Well, does music sound better on CD than on vinyl? An endless debate that has divided music lovers for forty years. “It depends on the times. I think albums recorded before the 1980’s sound better on vinyl because they were recorded specifically for analog storage. As for the CD, it is certain that it had weaknesses in the beginning. But digital continues to improve, while analogue has not,” notes Luc Bérard.
While independent record stores are seeing growing interest in CDs, Quebec CD sales are still declining. In fact, there are more older people giving up CDs in favor of digital media than music lovers turning back to CDs because vinyl prices have skyrocketed. But the latest figures from the Observatory for Culture and Communication are revealing and could herald a trend.
Between 2019 and 2020, CD sales fell by 26%, only to collapse by 48% between 2020 and 2021, partly due to the pandemic. Last year, the decline was limited to less than 8%.
Will the curve invert in 2022? In France, sales of CDs increased by 10% last year. “It’s hard to predict at this point, but we hope so. Physical sales are much more interesting than that in terms of revenue for artists stream. It is therefore a trend that we see in a good light,” emphasizes Ève Paré, director general of the Quebec Association of the Recording, Entertainment and Video Industries.