Compact Disc

02023-08-19 | Technology | 3 comments

A CD sold for about $17 in the early to mid Eighties. That’s about $53 in today’s money.

And yet, CDs still sell for around $17 today. They are cheap! While everything else went up in price CDs did not. Today they are sold for roughly one third of the value they sold for forty years ago.

I know, production costs have come down. CDs are mature, old technology. The truth is, even at this low, low price most musicians would be happy to sell as many CDs as they used to but as a culture we have pivoted to streaming. I could argue that’s because some people in Silicon Valley saw a way to make a lot of money by disrupting the industry and because the established record business was to slow in recognizing that. But the horses have left the barn.

When all, or most of the world’s music is available for around $10/month why wouldn’t we take advantage of that! I also buy less CDs than I used to. I remember walking into Tower Records, in the early 90s and buying ten or twenty CDs at a time… I do buy digital music albums in support of some artists but I am wary of accumulating more stuff since I moved a couple of years ago and I am sure I’ll move again.

I am reminded of Bruce Sterling, who said that no matter what happens, it happened to musicians first. He said this during a talk in 2014, just about a decade ago. 

In his performative talk, Bruce Sterling uses the music industry as a lens to take a closer look at the creative industries. According to Sterling, no matter what happens, it happened to musicians first.

For instance, musicians were the first to adapt to digital realities. Sterling refers to the development of music media, from vinyl to the cd, then over to the mp3, onwards to streaming and then back to vinyl again. Despite the music industry’s ability to adapt to the digital age  there is still no sustainable revenue model for musicians.

Whatever Happens to Musicians Happens to Everybody by Bruce Sterling

The way forward, at least for me, is pivoting music from mass-manufactured goods towards crafted objects. For example, selling a CD that I will burn, that I will sign, and that can be created with a unique sequence of tracks requested by the person buying the CD. Others will undoubtably arrive at different solutions. All of this will appear completely different, and even obvious, in the review mirror. To be revisited in ten years, although it will most likely take much longer to create a new thriving musician culture. Old people, like myself, may miss the 70s, 80s and the first half of the 90s.     :-)


  1. anne

    Comment *
    just need a good second hand music store.

    I live near an amazing store…has all the albums and cd’s i could possible want… looking at them, …the art work ..omg

    love looking through his collection…and second hand books too…and he knows it.

    • anne

      wish i understood the music industry better.

      “Sterling refers to the development of music media, from vinyl to the cd, then over to the mp3, onwards to streaming and then back to vinyl again.”

      My friend who owns the second hand music/book store, ..mentioned something about …vinyl comback – (i will ask him more about this). CD’s sales data over years – will give you an idea how bid this market is and could be.

      “… there is still no sustainable revenue model for musicians”

      The music industry needs help.

  2. Ira Lin

    Vinyl is still my favorite format, credit of artists and musicians clearly printed in it, some also printed artist’s thoughts on song and the struggle of completing the songs. But I am running out of storage space so I stop buying it, I’m fine with digital format, I can play it with good quality DAC.
    I do have a problem with streaming music, first, I know artists get very little from it, $5000 from 2 millions stream? that’s totally unfair, second, music industry executives (mostly MBA graduates) think they do the advertising, marketing, promotion and managing songs on the platform, they deserve be paid more, you artists just write songs, that’s easy so artists don’t need get paid much, Well, writing good music is not easy, Now I heard they are exploring using AI to create music for their platform, like “Hey Google, write a song like Ottmar Libert’s mixed it with Santana’s style” , and AI may create pretty good music that grab Ottmar & Santana’s fans, and these executives don’t need to pay loyalty to any artists, all the profits go to their companies, but who you are gonna sue? Sue the AI computer? This is very scary.


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