CD Sales Increase Again in the UK

UK CD Sales Increase in Q4 – Not bad for a dying format

Recent releases from popular artists such as Abba, Adele and Ed Sheeran are driving a revival in CD sales. Now before anyone says this is not their kind of music my interest here is that these artists (Ed Sheeran and Adele especially) are what is seen as the streaming generation.

As much as the PR and Record Companies what to make headlines saying that Vinyl sales are going into outer space they are still way behind the CD numbers.

Looking at the Official Charts Company data, Q4 sales of CDs have seen a year-on-year increase of almost 15%. 

The Music Week’s research compared total sales of the format from chart week 40 (October 8) to chart week 48 (December 3) between 2020 and 2021.

This turnaround in the performance of CDs has been driven by three acts – Adele, ABBA and Ed Sheeran.

Other research by Music Week points out that in the first four weeks of Q4 CD sales were down by 5% at the same time this year. They go on to add “this is still a respectable result for a declining format”. Why do they need to add this? With all the negative press the CD format should be dead, no CD players in cars, PCs, no CDs in most shops, but still the format refuses to fade away and is now climbing back into favour with music fans.

Music Week goes on to say from week 44, there were year-on-year increases in CD volumes in every one of the following five chart weeks. As a result, CD sales for the five-week period (chart weeks 44-48) increased by 25.6% year-on-year.

The first game-changing release was Ed Sheeran new album which hit No.1 with sales of 139,107 (including 78,263 compact discs).

CD sales then powered ahead with the release of ABBA’s Voyage in week 45. The album opened with overall sales of 203,909, which helped lift physical albums to a 27.6% share of the overall market that week.

As we have mentioned before Voyage by ABBA broke the record for weekly vinyl units this century (very dramatic) with 29,891 copies sold), but CD sales were 148,471 which hardly got a mention.

Music Week also stated that CD sales increased that week by 29.9% year-on-year to 395,360. And the Top 5 albums’ combined CD sales of 188,006 were 277.2% higher than Top 5’s volumes on CD in week 45 for 2020. Crucially, Ed Sheeran and ABBA then continued to shift significant amounts of physical units.

Taylor Swift also sold 46,000 CDs, Little Mix 16,000, Rod Stewart 18,000 and Adel a whopping 159,000 CDs

As a result, Adele helped take CD sales to 520,380, a year-on-year increase of 41.3%.

In week 47 CD sales were 158.7% higher than the volumes for the Top 5 albums in 2020.

In week 48 Adel sold another 102,262 albums of which (get this) 71,318 were on CD. 

As the mainstream music business tries to steer everyone towards vinyl and streaming (I think everyone agrees downloads are over) the CD is refusing to listen to the hype that no one buys them anymore. Record labels like Cherry Red are seeing a boom in sales and talking to a contact who owns a CD pressing plant, he is busier now than ever before.

Is this increase in CD sales being driven by Vinyl Prices?

The other factor is vinyl prices are all over the place. In the golden age of vinyl, single and double albums were roughly the same price. You did not see the difference in prices you see now for single or double albums as you do now.

The Record Labels also seem to have a different pricing structure which can be very confusing for music fans. Why is one single album £17.99 and another £30? Why is a triple album £29.99 and a double £40 or even £50? Whereas the CD price will be £11 or £15.

As Nigel House from Rough Trade said “I Really Like CD especially with the price of vinyl at the moment, it’s a bit too early to write the CD off.”

Phil Aston | Now Spinning Magazine

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2 years ago

I buy vinyl and CDs (and also subscribe to streaming services) but i prefer the latter, with main reasons being: much lower price, less maintenance needs and convenience (much easier to listen to music with great quality without e.g. having to clean the record regularly etc.). I fully understand that record labels should make profit and for this purpose they promote Vinyl and i get the medium’s appeal (i like vinyl too). However, i think that the labels are becoming too greedy and we will see decline in sales in next years unless they change their vinyl pricing.
Second point i would like to make is that sales of any physical medium depend on the availability of major acts with mass appeal. The CD sales increase of this topic shows that the medium is not dead yet but it also shows the difference that large acts like ABBA ,Adele can make. So, maybe the record labels should put more effort on this direction (also helping create the new generation of megastars like we had in my generation bands like Queen, U2 etc.) rather than milking the vinyl cow.

2 years ago

CD sales will bottom out rather that disappear. Perhaps we’re getting close to that right now. Of course, they could increase the incentive to buy CD’s if they would stop mastering them with a megaphone. I’m really tired of the “Vinyl sounds better” argument when it’s patently false. Vinyl sounds better right now because it’s being mastered sympathetically, whereas CD’s are (generally) being mastered by trained monkeys. Just master them properly and remind us of how great Redbook can sound!

Steven Richard Tulip
Steven Richard Tulip
2 years ago

As a Soul Fan (as well as many other things), the worship of vinyls has been catastrophic for the soul scene. You rightly point out that the record companies and the media have created a narrative whereby CDs never really caught on and I recall Piers Morgan – in a statement befitting a Dallas scriptwriter – once saying that we went from vinyls to downloads. Not just sound quality, but availability and practicalities: they fit through the letter box and you can play them in your (old) car. The best thing about vinyls is the sleeve, and my remaining stuff goes on the wall. One thing; you say CDs are really cheap. Lesser known Soul, Jazz, Blues and Reggae are going through the roof as they disappear.

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