CDs relegated to bargain bins
The beleaguered compact disc, made increasingly obsolete in the age of streaming, now has found itself in the bargain bin.
Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy, once one of the bigger music retailers with several aisles of CDs, now has a time capsule to another era jumbled up inside the $5.99 bargain bin. Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Who, Cat Stevens, Billy Ocean, Lionel Richie – all a nod to the aging demographics of those who still buy them.
“Does anybody remember the last time they bought a CD?” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly asked rhetorically earlier this year in confirming the retailer is “de-emphasizing” the category.
The truth is that CDs have been in a freefall for more than a decade. In recent years, Best Buy’s collection had been reduced to a single row. Displays of iTunes gift cards can be found more easily and plentifully in its stores than CDs.
Best Buy is also in the process of removing CDs altogether from its website. It only has a handful of audio systems with a CD player left in stores as streaming takes over the music business.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever bought a CD,” said high schooler Tommy Zimbinski of Prior Lake, Minn., who sometimes listens to his parents’ collection but mostly streams music on sites such as Spotify and Pandora.
He was, however, bought a handful of records. Indeed, while CDs have been on the decline, vinyl has been on the rise, prompting Best Buy to still carry LPs and Target to add them in the fall.
Target, too, is cutting back on its CD selection. The Minneapolis-based retailer still sells new releases, but in October 2016 it pulled back on the number of catalog, or previously released, CDs it carries from about 300 to 100.
Target is in the midst of an aggressive push to modernize hundreds of its stores. As stores are remodeled, the space for CDs, especially those catalog titles, will be further squeezed, said Joshua Thomas, a company spokesman.
“Music is an important part of our DNA,” he said. “We’re making changes that reflect changes in the industry and the shift in consumer behavior.”
For example, at its Nicollet Mall store next to headquarters, which was remodeled last year, the music aisle now only takes up half a row in addition to a stand-alone fixture. The selection ranges from the newest hits from the likes of Bruno Mars alongside more classic titles from Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.
Target also has continued to partner in recent years with A-list stars such as Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift on selling exclusive versions of albums.
But down the road, Stephen Baker, a tech analyst with the NPD Group, sees Target and other larger retailers such as Walmart following Best Buy’s lead when it comes to CDs.
CD sales slipped 6 percent last year while revenue from vinyl was up 10 percent. Still, vinyl sales are only about a third of CD sales overall. While CDs seem destined to continue to decline, many see them as having more lasting power than cassettes.
“They’re still a billiondollar business – that’s nothing to shake a stick at,” said Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). “There are still fans who love CDs and want to continue to have that tactile experience of holding a physical product and reading through the liner notes, the cover art, and all of that.”
CDs enjoyed a meteoric rise in the 90s, replacing cassette tapes as the popular music mode. They peaked around 2000 with about $13.2 billion in U.S. sales that year, according to the RIAA. Last year, they totaled only $1.1 billion in sales, making up 12 percent of the music industry’s overall revenue from recorded music. In contrast, streaming services made up 65 percent and digital downloads 15 percent.
Joel Anderson, 52, of Minneapolis, still buys CDs but acknowledges only his desktop computer can still play them. So he has half given in and downloads them onto his smartphone or iPod because it’s easier.
But there are some occasions that still bring him to a music store, such as shopping for his wife’s birthday as he did at the Electric Fetus on a recent day. He picked up a couple of CDs for her, noting that she worked at a record store in college so still appreciates physical music.
“Gifting music is not as fun with a subscription,” he said.
In recent years, Best Buy’s collection of CDs has been reduced to a single row.