But read a just a few paragraphs into the article and you’ll see some unhappy news for the music industry. Writes Keith Caulfield:
The soundtrack's overall 42,000 unit total is the smallest weekly sum for a No. 1 album since the chart began ranking titles by equivalent units in Dec. 2014. Further, of its 42,000 start, just 30,000 were pure album sales. [...] That's the lowest sales figure for a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, or Top Album Sales, since Nielsen Music began powering the charts' rankings in 1991.
Those figures by themselves are disconcerting for the music industry -- the Billboard 200 chart ranks sales based on physical and digital sales, meaning music sales are falling across the board -- but another story last week made the news even worse for physical (read: CD) sales: Columbia House, the mail-order music company, filed for bankruptcy protection. By the mid-1990s, Columbia House ditched tapes and records and raked in $1 billion at its peak on CDs alone; according to Forbes, Columbia House stopped offering CDs around 2010 to focus on DVDs.
The long-held assertion that the compact disc's time is up -- as far as the music industry is concerned -- might be true.
You might be asking yourselves why a website about preservation tips is commenting on the fate of the CD in the music industry. True, how you release your music is not so much a concern of ours (although, thanks to our survey, we know that over half of our respondents still issue music on CD, which surprised the hell out of us). And let’s not forget there is a cottage industry for predicting the death of popular technological mediums. A simple Google search reveals articles from 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, and even earlier this year, proclaiming the CD to be dead.
But stick with us -- we’re going somewhere.
The truth is, the formats used by the music companies have had a tremendous effect on home storage methods. Eight-track tape recorders failed to gain wide popularity, but after the introduction of the compact magnetic cassette tape, companies eventually capitalized on home-recordable versions, for both audio and data storage.
But there’s another side here, and it goes back to our initial discussion about the fate of the CD: even if you’re willing to shell out big bucks for archival-quality gold CD-Rs or an engraved M-Disc -- which are supposed to last up to 100 and over 1,000 years, respectively -- what do you think are the chances that the technology necessary to read those discs will still be around then?
The archivists in Rice University’s Woodson Research Center recently acquired a reel-to-reel tape deck in hopes of digitizing audio collections. The deck needed new tape heads, and a specialist to work with them. Luckily, we knew where to find him -- but what happens when he, and the few other people who do this work, are gone? In fact, forget the media being around in 100 years -- what about 10 years? Beginning in 2008, Apple started phasing out optical drives from their laptops and desktops. The stated reasoning was to trim the size and manufacturing cost of the machines, but at the time, Apple’s iTunes reaped huge money in selling digital copies of movies and music. How long will it be before what used to be a dominant piece of technology in your life becomes a specialist project?
In an age where everyone carries around at least one hard drive with us everywhere, this concept might seem scary. Our intention is not to scare you, but to make it known that no medium is a “forever” storage option.
Post Script: if you have time, take a little trip to the “Data” section of the Museum of Obsolete Formats. It’s a humbling experience.