‘CD-format to be abandoned by major labels by the end of 2012’, thundered the headline. You’d click on that, wouldn’t you? Thousands did.
In the article, an anonymous writer for music site Side-Line, claimed that the music industry had hatched a secret plan to phase out the CD, “and replace it with download/stream only releases via iTunes and related music services.”
The piece was poorly written, and named no expert sources (beyond its own “chief editor”), but that didn’t stop it spreading faster than the “FENTOOOON!” meme.
It’s since had 30,000 Likes, been parroted as fact by tech blogs, and generated fiery discussion on forums such as Drowned In Sound.
I even posted it on Facebook myself. That was before I actually read the article, at which point I thought, ‘Hang on, this is total bollocks, isn’t it?’
The writer claimed that he’d contacted EMI, Universal and Sony, all of whom “declined to comment”. Which is a puzzle, because when I tried to get a comment from a major label it took precisely 30 seconds for them to reply saying the whole thing was “nonsense”.
“We have no intention of stopping the production of CDs”, said Selina Webb, director of communications for Universal, pointing out that, although digital sales are growing fast, across the entire industry 74% of all album sales in 2011 have been on CD.
Meanwhile Chris Scott, a product manager for the same label, confirmed the continuing supremacy of the format, telling me:
The physical single might have become a niche product, but the physical album is a very important product indeed.
The labels would have to be frothing nutjobs to willingly discontinue their most profitable activity. Sure, everyone knows revenues from physical music are declining. But not as fast as you might think.
The market is currently worth around £10 billion. According to analysts, that will whittle down to £7.5 billion by 2015. But even then, physical sales will still bring in 30% more cash than digital.
As for Side-Line’s claim that CDs will soon be replaced by “stream-only releases”, that’s laughable. Until the day when buying a monthly music subscription becomes a truly mainstream activity (hey, it could happen), no-one’s going to make any serious money from streaming. As the musician Jon Hopkins put it on Twitter the other day:
Got paid £8 for 90,000 plays. Fuck Spotify.
So – the CD age is far from over. Still, Side-Line’s article did at least ignite an interesting debate. If CDs ever do disappear, will we miss them? In the future will we fetishise them in the same way some people do vinyl today? So far the format has proved resistant to nostalgia, but for all the reasons I outline here, I’m convinced that will change.
Then again, the runaway popularity of the Side-Line piece also raises another question: why bother with actual journalism online, when you can guff out a load of wafty half-arsed nonsense, and watch the traffic roll in?