Happy Birthday, Compact Disc

Forty years ago, in August 1982, the first CD was manufactured after development by Sony and Philips.

The new format quickly took off. Compared to vinyl, CDs offered the convenience of skipping straight to a particular track and no need to turn over the record after 20 minutes. Sound quality was better than vinyl because there was no background hiss and no scratches.

Debate soon followed about digital sound versus analogue and, as sales of traditional LPs started to fall, some die-hards insisted that analogue vinyl sounded 'warmer' and more real. But convenience is a strong driver for consumers and for most people this outweighed the slight drop in sound quality - assuming your equipment was good enough for you to actually hear the difference.

Not our CD collection

The CD was a real success story and sales increased steeply until 2001, when they started to decline. The competition wasn't a new, better format: it was piracy. The digital audio stored on a CD was easily ripped and copied by computers. An entire generation of consumers realised that they could use a sharing service such as Napster to download music completely free.

Governments slowly realised that they couldn't let an entire generation of music-lovers get away with unlimited free music and took action to shut down the sharing services. Spotify came along in 2006 offering greater convenience than illegal downloads for a small monthly payment and other streaming services followed.

Meanwhile, sales of CDs steadily fell from their 2001 peak. Until last year. Sales in 2021 were 47% higher than in 2020. In absolute terms, streaming is still top dog by a long way. But it's good to see that the CD made it to its 40th birthday.