THE SOUND OF SILENCE

Best Buy and Target put the nail in the coffin for music CDs

First, we quit listening—then, buying. Now we’re on track to stop seeing them altogether.

The music CD has been sliding toward an uncelebrated exit over the last several decades, after digital downloads and online music-streaming services, both of which are cheaper and more accessible than clunky physical discs, took over. Another—perhaps final—blow came this month. Best Buy announced out of the blue that it will no longer sell CDs in its thousand-odd stores after July 1. And Target might soon follow suit, according to Billboard: The big-box retailer is currently demanding payment on a consignment basis from music suppliers, meaning that it only wants to pay for the discs it sells.

While a data breakdown of CD sales by retailer isn’t available, Best Buy and Target are both global brands with vast reach. Target, for instance, sold 500,000 physical copies of Taylor Swift’s Reputation last year—even when the majority of Swift’s young audience was on streaming.

To anyone who follows the music business or even considers themselves a music fan, neither piece of news should come as too much of a surprise. But the fact that massive retailers are deeming CDs not worth the effort to stock anymore is still a stark one, as is the sure-to-be-significant impact on the format’s already-anemic sales.

Yet, wait—what about vinyl’s against-all-odds revival? Surely CDs might be gifted the same nostalgia-driven upswing?

Likely not, actually. Vinyl records have come back because they represent much more than a way to listen to music; they have a distinct sound treasured by fans, offer an aesthetic value tied to a special period of history, and are associated with a deeply personal listening experience. CDs, on the other hand, were only ever utilitarian music-delivery systems, failing to enchant most of the world with either their look or their sound (Japan being an eccentric exception). It just might be time to say goodbye.

Sarah Slobin contributed reporting.


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