Image credit: Mick Haupt

CD sales grew for the first time in two decades in the UK last year, is the old physical format seeing a resurgence?

In 2023, the UK’s music industry saw something astonishing. For the first time in two decades, sales of CDs rose. The old Compact Disc format which overtook vinyl LPs for sales in 1988 has steadily declined since 2002 after digital music’s influence on the industry.

Online music piracy began CDs’ decline. Piracy was solved by music streaming services, a legitimate channel to the abundance of music digital methods allowed.

In the wake of digital music services, physical music has seen a resurgence as more of an aesthetic and collectors purchase. First vinyl LPs came back into fashion in a big way. Last month we reported that vinyl sales were at their highest since 1990. More recently cassette tapes have also been growing in sales.

Now we might be seeing CDs joining the party. Sales of CDs rose by 2% in the UK last year. The increase in sale was a result of price inflation and exclusive CD releases being sold at a higher price for superfans. The number of CDs sold continued to fall by 7% – however, that represents a dramatic slow down on 2022 when CDs dropped 20% in units sold.

This slow down of units sold and the increase in sales shows that CDs still have value. It’s clear that the bolstering factor is music fans treating CDs in the same light that vinyl has come into; collectors and fans purchases. At a much cheaper price than vinyl, CDs have the potential to grow with audiences much more if they do see a proper resurgrence.

ERA chief executive, Kim Bayley said: “It’s about collectors discovering CDs. CDs are a digital format you can keep forever, and that’s attractive when people are subscribing across lots of different services. There are a lot of exclusives and memorabilia.”

A good year for CDs helped see the total value of music sales in the UK rise by 9.6% in 2023. This figure was just 0.08% from the UK’s record sales figure 22 years ago. The growth was largely thanks to the continued success of music streaming, with vinyl sales still being the largest bolster of physical sales.