In news that would have been almost unthinkable just a few years ago, it’s been confirmed that there was a rise in the value of UK CD sales in 2023 - the first in two decades. In fact, it was a bumper year for physical music media all round, with the vinyl market also on the up.
What’s more, when you factor in streaming subscriptions as well, the value of the UK music market is almost back up to the level of 2001, the peak of the CD era. UK spending on music streaming subscriptions, vinyl and CDs grew by 9.6% in 2023, almost twice as fast as in 2022, when it rose by 5%. To put that into context, the overall figure of £2,219.9m is just 0.08% shy of the 2001 total.
Digging into the details a little - which come courtesy of The Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA) - we can tell you that the UK CD market is now worth £126.2m - 2% more than its value in 2022. Growth has been driven in part, we suspect, by fans’ desire to collect ‘real’ versions of their favourite artists’ new albums, which are often special editions. The CD versions typically cost less than their vinyl equivalents, too.
That said, the vinyl resurgence shows no signs of slowing, with sales up 17.8% year on year to £177.3m. That’s still significantly more than the value of the CD market.
Overall, physical music sales grew 10.9% to £311m (this figure includes cassettes as well, we’re assuming). This compares with a 4% decline in the market in 2022, which is an impressive turnaround by any measure.
Although vinyl still rules the physical roost, the rise of the CD will be cheered in some quarters. Some hi-fi buffs might scoff, but others still see CD as the peak music format for its balance of quality, convenience and affordability.
There are those within the industry who believe that the CD is a better option than vinyl, too. In 2022, musician and Ableton Live co-creator Robert Henke said that it’s time to stop pressing vinyl and “fully embrace CDs”, citing environmental concerns.
“I still love physical products,” he wrote, “but manufacturing big heavy plates of plastic and have [sic] them shipped around the globe is a huge waste of energy and resources.”
Blur and The Smiths producer Stephen Street, meanwhile, believes that the cost of getting your music pressed on vinyl could drive more artists towards compact discs.
"I still love CDs and I still buy CDs," he said in 2023. "I think CDs are going to be a format that a lot of the indie bands are going to have to go back to because they can't afford to get their records put on vinyl anymore."
Street also argues that, once consumers start listening to CDs again, they’ll realise what they’ve been missing. "I think if people actually bother to compare a CD to a stream they'll actually remember how much better CDs sound," he says.