CD Decline


by Adam Sheffield

This morning I drove to work, again listening to FM radio, because for the past few weeks a CD has been stuck in my car’s CD player, hindering my dominance over what I want to hear. Shortly after I arrived at work, I attempted to briefly read some of today’s headlines. One headline in particular caught my eye. According to Business Insider, “Best Buy is pulling CDs from stores, and people are not happy.” To some, especially younger generations, CDs were never really important anyways, because they have grown up in a world listening to music by streaming it with services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Older generations greatly appreciate radio broadcasts and/or their vinyl records (which are making a significant come back and growth in popularity). So who are these people that are so upset with the decline and end of CDs? Well, despite the fact that my car is currently choking on a CD, I am one of those people.

You see, I grew up in a time when CDs were the NEXT BEST THING. Let me tell you why. Before I had CDs and especially before my cars came standard with built-in CD players, I was listening to cassette tapes. Don’t get me wrong, cassettes had their place, and many still remain in great musical collections. But... cassettes were not made to last. Long story short - in the blink of an eye cassettes could get twisted, stretched and torn in the tape deck, or the most dreaded flaw - the tangled knotty mess that could only be tediously fixed with some patience and an arrow eraser. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then bless your heart. 

Another reason why tapes wouldn’t make it to eternity, is that cassettes were magnetically recorded. Basically, a thin magnetic coating contains the recorded data and stuck to a strip of plastic film. Over time, the magnetization deteriorates and separates, making the cassette useless. So even if you took the greatest care of your cassettes, they’ll eventually die on their own.

So along came CDs. These discs could hold music, data, and eventually led into developments such as DVDs and Blu Ray etc… Like most digital formats, there is some compression and data loss, lowering the quality of the sound coming from the CD’s music, but overall CDs worked well for playing back music. You could make copies of your favorite musical artists and store them on CD, so you didn’t have to sacrifice the original. Delicately chosen mixed CDs were just as popular as mixed tapes were in the 80s and 90s. There was even a time when illegally downloading music online and burning those songs to CDs was common. CDs, for better or worse, changed the music industry. Despite some externalities, it seemed as though CDs would be around foreve

Even though CDs use a digital format, they are still considered a physical media. Like their predecessor, cassette tapes, these physical items have a shelf life. The chemicals used to manufacture a CD will eventually breakdown, causing the CD to deteriorate and become useless. CDs can get scratched or cracked, and then they’re done for. As long as you have the files to load back onto a CD, your music can live another day.

So now we come to the real reason why Best Buy and other retailers are going to stop stocking their shelves with CDs. Digital music files are now more portable than ever. Mobile devices use internal storage or internet-based distributing to access files, and playback can now enjoyed via auxiliary/USB inputs or even wireless Bluetooth connections. As awesome as CDs once were, they required a device at least the size of the CD themselves in order to listen to them. Our society wants everything to fit in the palm of our hand.

My bottom line: Yes, I know that CDs are on their way out. I am saddened to hear that such a large part of my music listening history has become a thing of the past. CDs carried me through some of the most influential years of my life. I will always have those memories. Thanks to digitization and rapidly evolving technologies, I will always have my music too. I just won’t have to worry about it getting stuck in my car’s six disc changer anymore.