CDs not dead yet

Adrian Doran knows he's clinging onto what many consider an obsolete music format, but for him there's still plenty to love about compact discs.

Not long ago, he made browsing the CD aisles of HMV Canada part of his shopping routine, but when the retailer went bust last spring he was confronted with the possibility of migrating to a streaming music service. He chose to start picking up CDs at his local independent record store instead.

"I just bought into them big time," the 52-year-old Toronto resident said of his appreciation for CDs.

Whether it's the inferior sound quality or the inaccessibility of rarities, Doran finds streaming music services don't stand up to his extensive CD collection. He tried Spotify but couldn't see past its shortcomings, particularly the missing albums in artists' back catalogues that were substituted by "greatest hits" packages.

"There's huge holes," he said of the selection. "It really surprised me."

Despite becoming what some dubbed "the year of streaming," 2017 proved those shiny little discs still have some life left in them. But it isn't necessarily because of strong consumer demand from holdouts like Doran. It's because the music industry is trying to stave off the demise of its golden goose any way it can.

CD sales were boosted this year by a trend that saw some concert tickets for big arena shows — including tours by Arcade Fire, Shania Twain and Pink — bundled with a copy of the band or artist's latest album.

Compact discs were also a huge part of Taylor Swift's launch of "Reputation," her latest album which came packaged at Walmart Canada stores with an exclusive magazine about the singer. Streaming platforms didn't get the year's top-selling album until three weeks after its release, which meant many Swifties were dusting off their parents' boomboxes to get a first listen.

Other albums like Gord Downie's posthumous "Introduce Yerself" also saw sales heavily weighted in the CD format. About 9,700 copies were sold on CD, thousands more than its digital and vinyl sales combined.

Preliminary numbers from Nielsen Music Canada show that while CD sales fell 18 per cent over the past year, still selling roughly 10 million units, they were relatively strong compared to the more dramatic erosion of digital album sales through stores like iTunes.

Digital album sales tumbled nearly 25 per cent for the year to 6.2 million units, extending what is expected to be a steep downturn as more listeners embrace streaming services.

David Bakula, who oversees Nielsen's industry insights operations, said the changes in digital habits mean the CD is representing a larger share of the declining album sales market. He believes that writing the obituary for the CD is premature as labels look to bolster album sales however they can, while older listeners stick to their usual buying habits.

"We're not seeing this flight from the format," he added.

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