Teenagers Shun CDs

You knew music sales were bad, but I bet you didn’t realize just how bad they are:

• 48% of teenagers bought no CDs at all in 2007, up from 38% in 2006.

• Apple iTunes (AAPL) has surpassed Best Buy to become the second-largest music retailer in the U.S. They now trail only Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)

• The number of CDs sold in the U.S. fell 19% in
2007 from the previous year while sales of digital songs jumped 45%,
Nielsen SoundScan said.

Legal online music sales jumped 21% to 29 million last year from 24 million in 2006. The increase in legal online sales
was driven by people 36 to 50;

• In 2005, teenagers accounted for 15% of CD sales. In 2007, the
figure was 10%.

The recording industry likes to blame downloading as the source of all their ills, but I am compelled to point out a few things to them:

a) the economy has been weakening for a year now;

b) teenagers today have a universe of entertainment options that didn’t exist 20 years ago;

c) The RIAA litigation tactics has completely disenchanted what was once their biggest consumers.

Whoever thinks they can harass, menace, threaten and sue their biggest clients without repercussion obviously has never worked a retail business.

Teenagers have quite predictably responded with a giant "fuck-you-and-your-shiny-silver-discs, dude."

I am not surprised one bit . . .


More teenagers ignoring CDs, report says
Michelle Quinn and Andrea Chang
Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2008

Apple’s iTunes: We’re No. 2!
Bit Player, February 26, 2008

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 3

    Well said, Barry. The demise of radio station diversity (thanks to Clear Channel, Citadel etc.) is also playing a significant role, in my opinion. Radio used to be where you heard new songs and new bands and where you or your friends then bought the new release. Here in Maine, there are almost no commercial radio stations left that actually play new releases or new bands. If people don’t know it exists, it’s hard for them to want it.


    BR: Hey Douglas, thanks for the reminder:

    We covered that topic extensively in Radio’s Wounded Business Model

  2. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 3

    Another trend I see with my teenage relatives is that they spend tons of time on the computer doing all kinds of stuff, but very little time listening to music. While I’m dating myself (I am 43), my peer group of teenagers spent massive amounts of time listening to music, and hence, buying music. I wonder if teenagers are buying and downloading less music today simply because their time is spent on other stuff, particularly the entire universe that has been opened up to them on the intertoobz.

  3. Mikey commented on Mar 3

    Those numbers are shocking but not really surprising. Too often for too long, music has been an afterthought in the minds of retailers, marketers (radio, MTV, etc), and thus purchasers.

    I live in the SF bay area and can think of four places within a 10 mile radius of where I live that sell music: A bookstore (Borders) and three electronics places (2 Best Buy’s and a Fry’s). The demise of places to buy music is a whole thread in and of itself, but if MTV doesn’t play music (the “M” in MTV, after all), radio plays the same 20 songs ad nauseum in between commercials, music press is all but dead, the record companies produce fewer titles, and there are increasingly fewer places to buy those titles, then it is easy to see where the business is headed.

    And that’s too bad since people would buy more music if they had the opportunity. I know I would.

  4. Marcus Aurelius commented on Mar 3

    I’ll bet they still want to rock and roll all night and party every day.

  5. PFT commented on Mar 3

    Maybe the music “s*cks”?. I stopped listening to the radio over 10 years ago when that hip-hop and rap-crap infected the airwaves, so I have no idea whats out there now, and just listen to music I own from the 60’s-80’s. Guess I sound like my old man in the 60’s.

    Difference is, the kids do not seem too excited by the music of today either, at least not enough to pay for it. People forget that from the 70’s we could tape music from the radio which is not much different than downloading a file. If you liked it, you bought it.

    Price relative to quality may be an issue as well. The minimum wage, which most kids work at, has not increased as much
    relative to music prices since the 70’s. Maybe the music industry should consider sub-prime loans to the kids, or just drop prices.

  6. greentintedglasses commented on Mar 3

    I guess it’s the same thing as with LDs in the past being replaced by CDs, except now it is the CDs’ turn to be replaced with online music. As the kids interviewed in the article pointed out, it is all about convenience: not having to rip the tunes off the CD is probably a major reason behind the shift from CDs to digital music.

    One point: it’s not as bad as you put it, is it? Legal online music sales jumped 21%, that has to count for something – it doesn’t matter whether the buyers of music are teens or 36-50 year olds. The problem comes when the teens grow up – if the music industry and the RIAA haven’t gotten their act together by then…

  7. Portland Refugee commented on Mar 3

    You don’t say. (insert sarcasm) Stevie Wonder could have ‘seen’ this coming.

    p.s. rollingstone has had articles on this for just about four years now.

  8. Dave commented on Mar 3

    1) most albums released these days contain 1 song worth listening to (and it’s been that way for over a decade, if not longer) — why should we pay $15-$20 to listen to one track which the radio and MTV will play over and over anyways?

    2) FxCK the RIAA :)

  9. Portland Refugee commented on Mar 3

    Did you know that many of these sales are for purchases of older music? (hendrix, led zep, clapton, kiss, alice in chains, nirvana, etc) Kids are discovering these artist because the current line up stinks. The major lables ‘Focus Group’ (a very flawed processes) artist before launching them. if the music doesn’t make the focus group attendees stomp their foot, the artist is shelved.

    the majors don’t have the ability to nurture an artist anymore (too costly)…… so they settle for crap…….ex: CREED

  10. ken h commented on Mar 3

    I have a 15 year old and he listens to music. He listens to music I used to and still do listen to. I’m 40ish and grew up on rock and roll and concerts. I went to a Stones concert in the late 70s for 12 bucks. Now it would be hundreds.

    There are a few innovative bands out there but most is packaged american idol crap that no one really wants to listen to. My son listens to my old Rock and Roll. I have vinyl, old casettes, and thousands of CD’s. I bartered with an old Napster type several years ago and he gave me thousands of songs. Plus, I do still buy a CD or 2 and the first thing I do is rip it. It takes less than 2 minutes. All my music is backed up on two different hard drives and catalogged. I use my phone as my MP3 and it works good enough for me. One son and daughter HAD TO HAVE an ipod against my wishes as it is SO propriotory. It’s a running joke in our family as he gets something new from Ipod he thinks I won’t have, and I always do. My younger son got an Mp3 and it took me no longer than 5 minutes to load it. My son’s Ipod took half a day. Plus the songs magically disapear occasionally in his Ipod catalog, imagine that.

    I believe there is a host of reasons why CD sales are down but let’s face it, there just isn’t anything I would jump up and buy. Nothing any of my chldren really care about. Maybe they need to start taking drugs again, care about the music and not their PR.

    BR put me onto JJ Mofro, nice, thanks!
    That’s why I like this blog, diversity.

    Fucking great cartoons too Man!

  11. COD commented on Mar 3

    In the Facebook / Myspace connected world of teenagers, the hot new band is just as likely to be an unsigned act with a Myspace page and no RIAA affiliated record company is involved to track sales. Jonathon Coulton is making a pretty good living giving away a lot of music and also selling quite a bit direct to his fans. Not mention the Tshirts, conference gigs, and concerts. When you have an infinitely reproducible good like an MP3 file, your business plan needs to revolve around selling something else.

  12. yoshi commented on Mar 3

    I haven’t bought a CD in 8 years. Why? Two reasons – as a format the CD itself is a dinosaur. The CD is too large and too fragile. Physical media in general is dead. Secondly – I got tired of not being able to buy what I wanted to buy. Amazon.com temporarily prolong by CD buying by having a larger selection. But I couldn’t get music that was released in the Europe or Asia for months or years if ever. The same holds true for video. If I had a legal way to acquire BBC shows that I want to see I would do so. But there isn’t. So about 5 minutes after the show first broadcasts in the UK I download it off the net. And would I buy the DVD of the show if it was released in the US? No. Because its edited or the music is different than the aired version (I’ve been burned by that twice). The studios are clinging to a business model that no longer works.

    re: music taste

    Music taste is subjective. Just because you are too closed minded to like music by recent artists doesn’t mean others are. Keep listening to that song for that 900th time that was playing when you first got laid – I like a little more variety.

  13. Bob A commented on Mar 3

    I suspect if anyone actually audited all the Ipods they would find 90%+ of the music on Ipods was copied from friends Ipods.
    This should not be a mystery to anyone and it continues to amaze me that it seems to be.

  14. Max Thrax commented on Mar 3

    The new Nine Inch Nails has been released via download only. Its a collection of instrumentals, 36 in all. ‘Ghosts I-IV’ also feature guitarist Adrian Belew:

    “The full version of the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts I-IV, contains 36 songs split into four volumes. Reznor (and/or his representatives) uploaded the first volume into BitTorrent, where it can be downloaded free.

    The entire 36-song version can be purchased digitally (in the MP3 format) for a mere $5 from Amazon MP3 or the band’s website, NIN.com. At this point, the site has slowed to a crawl due to the tremendous response to Sunday’s release — Reznor says they’re adding more servers to cope with demand.

    Taken as a whole, this is a remarkably extensive release that leverages BitTorrent distribution and word-of-mouth promotion in a way that would be impossible with most record labels. By embracing the best things about digital and physical releases, Nine Inch Nails has advanced the dialogue that Radiohead began with In Rainbows.”


  15. toady commented on Mar 3

    Bob, you’ve explained my awesome, but unlistened to, collection of German thrash bands, electronica, and Eurotecho I got from by brother-in-law and sister.

  16. MRW commented on Mar 3

    @ Dave

    I’m so tired of the lame generalization that most albums only have one good track and the rest are awful.

    If you find that to be the case with albums that you acquire then you need to get some better music taste.

  17. John commented on Mar 3

    Amen, Barry.

    I’m 71 and I too refuse to buy a damn CD or DVD. My attitude towards the MPIA and the RIAA is “fuck you.”

    And no, I’ve never downloaded music illegally.

  18. Joe commented on Mar 3

    With today’s music if you really like something, you can fire up Youtube and listen to it as your hearts content. Most of the time the novelty will wear off on that one song and there is nothing else worthwhile.

    The couple times I have decided to try a whole album out, I go to FYE or whatever and the CD is $18.99 because it isn’t in the teenie boppers top 20. I turn and walk out swearing under my breath.

  19. Bob A commented on Mar 3

    It works something like this. Person buys Ipod. Person goes to friends house. Person uploads 80gb of music from friends computer while doing whatever. Repeat millions of times. Thank you Apple!

  20. Doctor of Love commented on Mar 3

    The music biz is going full circle back to the days (50s? 40s?) when touring produced more income than recordings. The record companies as currently organized are just cd-selling companies.

  21. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 3

    Let’s remember that the Record Companies’ Business Model when switching to the CD format was largely built upon re-releasing their enormous back catalogs of pre-CD music to people who already had this music on other formats and charging them all over and a lot of $$$ to listen to music they had already bought all over again.

    This strategy, however, can only work on music that was released before the CD format came out. It’s hard to re-release music originally on CD as “first time on CD.” So that golden goose has sort of been cooked.

    As Barry and others have noted, the big mistake of the Record Companies is to think that they are in the business of selling us plastic discs. They are in the business of selling art. The medium is not the message. They f*ed up.

  22. D. commented on Mar 3

    It’s like sign painters complaining about neons taking away their business a few decades ago!

  23. Anonymous commented on Mar 3

    In 2006 EMI, the world’s fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. “That was the moment we realised the game was completely up,” says a person who was there.

    Economist, January 10th 2008

  24. nick power commented on Mar 3

    um, perhaps the music industry should have thought a bit longer about how wise it was to go digital. Digital means you can copy it perfectly — digit for digit. Their engineered planned obsolescence seems to have come back to bite them in the ass. Would Ford please put out a car that could replicate itself perfectly — I’d be set.

  25. spiny mcdob commented on Mar 3

    when i was a teenager we actually played instruments…..today kid hold a fake instrument and press colored buttons? WTF is that all about…

  26. Rodger Coleman commented on Mar 3

    Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart. The reason I got turned on to The Big Picture was BR’s commentary on the music industry, which is always spot on.

    Anyway, I still buy CDs (and LPs) – I love records and I always have! But, there’s less and less stuff being put out and what does get released is just too damn expensive. CDs should cost $5 per disc – tops. At $18.99, I’m just not going to take a chance on something new, and I’ll think twice about buying something, even if I really want it.

    It’s a shame that the music industry has allowed SACD and/or DVD-Audio die on the vine. These were truly high-resolution formats that came close to reproducing the high-quality sound of analog. MP3? Give me a break. Yes, I have an iPod that I listen to in the car and I rip CDs (I have thousands) to AAC at 256kpbs and it is acceptable – in the car.

    In my opinion, the music industry would do well to give away MP3s so as to create interest in a high-quality product that one might buy. The RIAA’s equating an MP3 file to a CD – much less SACD/DVD-Audio – is utter foolishness. No wonder the kids are “stealing” music. I don’t blame them.

    I strongly believe that, if CDs were priced reasonably (like, say, what LPs were priced back in the day, from $2-$10), folks would buy them. This would make it so that it’s no longer worth the effort to find and download what you want. And if the labels would simply license downloading of MP3s, they could take advantage of the promotional possibilities while creating a (modest) revenue stream to boot. Monetizing this intense desire for music should be pretty easy to accomplish, it seems to me.

    But, no. The RIAA thinks spending millions of dollars on attorney’s fees and suing their customers is a legitimate business model. To hell with them.

    And, yes, I download music (FLAC or SHN only, thank you very much), but I do try to do it ethically by only pursuing otherwise unavailable recordings mostly live stuff recorded from the audience or European FM broadcasts. This happily fills my need for new music without the fear of a Kazaa-inspired lawsuit. If this music was available for sale, would I buy it? Maybe, if it was priced correctly.

    The music industry is leaving money on the table and has been since the rise of Napster, and that is baffling to me. Are they really that stupid? Apparently so.

    As a lover of music and a record collector, it bums me out to no end.

    Anyway, thanks for the cool blog.


  27. Street Creds commented on Mar 3

    If you think teenagers haven’t raised their income, try to get a babysiter Saturday night. If you are succcessful, you will need a pile of twenties to pay her off.

  28. creekside commented on Mar 3

    Maybe because I live in a music town, but there are a lot of young people who play music, and live by it, who mostly sell their CDs directly. Even legit artists who sell in stores may be selling quite a bit directly.

  29. stan commented on Mar 3

    What are “Legal online music sales”. Is that CD’s or downloads? …or both????

  30. Mr. Obvious commented on Mar 3

    My 12 year old daughter “listens” to her music via youtube, which is really the MTV of today’s generation.

    For as hip as the music industry is supposed to be, they have become dinosaurs….

  31. donna commented on Mar 3

    My son has purchased his own guitar and now a bass.

    He downloads most of his music, and even the music he plays is scored online for free.

  32. DMR commented on Mar 3

    Bunch of whiny boomers and their rock and roll! Move to Florida….err, go on your hyper-narcissistic eco-tourism yoga retreat.

  33. William Wallace commented on Mar 3

    People don’t like to be told what they can do with stuff they paid for. That’s why the whole copyright/license/DRM thing will collapse completely.

    Remember the Sony rootkit thing? There is no depth the fat bastards of the music industry won’t sink to in order to hang on to an antiquated income stream. Time passed them by and yet they want to play corporate gangster with the very people that produce their income.

    RIAA is a disgrace and an insult to every American citizen and our way of life – a prime example of corporatism morphing into fascism.

  34. The Dirty Mac commented on Mar 4

    Classic Rock Radio has pretty much dumped The Beatles.

  35. Eclectic commented on Mar 4

    Most amusing set of comments I’ve seen in months.

    Blindfold you and handcuff you to a tree, Barringo, and your pockets would get picked clean within minutes.

    All the reasons you cited that the music industry is dying are just noise, with the possible exception of price-point.

    The reason is t-h-e-f-t, and the 5-finger-discounters are all here posting tonight.

    It’s also the reason you get bitched at for trying to sell ads, and so I figure you really do understand it.

    512 of the DMCA raised theft to a national passtime.

  36. DustPuppyOI commented on Mar 4

    Check out the official site of Barenaked Ladies (SFW – they are guys): http://www.bnlmusic.com/

    They’ve been pushing different distributions (an album on a thumb drive), have special videos, and recordings of concerts.

  37. saltwater commented on Mar 4

    It’s because people like this are writing GREAT music and offering it for free.


    Some of the best music, truly talented singer song writers, can be found on movie soundtracks such as Garden State and more recently,Once. Also TV shows, like Gray’s Anatomy, has great new artists. All of which can be found, listened to and downloaded (one song or entire album) on Amazon.

    GUITAR HERO will change the music we hear on the radio going forward…. Thank God. It will also produce some unbelievable musicians in 10 yrs.

  38. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 4

    It’s funny that this particular topic is what first attracted me to Barry’s site in the first place. I still am and have been a musician, performer, record producer, newspaper owner, record reviewer, and radio station dee jay (Jamaican dub reggae and U.S. country). I have been exposed to at least some part of the entire commercial music economic chain.

    “Penny wise and pound foolish” is one aphorism that accurately captures the RIAA’s stance since the onset of digital audio. It is also discussed in detail here.

    As a composer and musician for 25 years, yes, I want to be paid for my work. But I am not so stupid to think that the surefire way for me to get zillions of people to hear my work is to zealously keep everyone from hearing it. There is this thing called “priming the pump” and “salesman’s samples.”

    As Frank Zappa says here, selling art is different than selling wheat. All wheat is the same. The cachet of art is that it is all different. Each batch must be sampled. It’s like a wine tasting. The customer needs to have the chance to take a sip of your wine without being charged $18 for the chance. Radio used to be the “wine tasting” for music. Radio, thanks to Reagan and Clinton’s FCC, is dead.

    But more important, you need a culture and society and treasures, celebrates and FUNDS the arts, including teaching kids prowess on instruments like violins, violas, drums, french horns, tympani and the human voice … skills that take years of practice to master. And giving these kids an audience to play for. Which means a society that likes, and appreciates, and has the time, and wants to listen to … live music. My nephew and niece love to play music. They bang on my instruments when they are up here at my house. Music is a massive societal plus and good. It is worth paying for. Or as Frank Zappa said, what you get for not investing in music and arts education for children is an impoverished, illiterate and dead culture feeding off the floor scraps of the past.


  39. la grande poussée commented on Mar 4

    No Mercy they and the motion picture industry should rot in hell – they have been legally stealing for as long as I can remember – I’m 65 – those fuckingassholes can rot in hell – they have been protected by the Government as well as the Drug Industry – they are next!


  40. Finance Monk commented on Mar 4

    I honestly doubt people are making moral decisions against the RIAA with their purchases. CD’s are just… old. They scratch easily. You have to switch between disks to listen to a song you want. On an iPod or on your computer, you just scroll through thousands of songs and click and instantly listen to it. They’re much more portable.

    The mp3 format and iPod are a huge leap in practicality. I think I even pay a small premium for downloaded music over CDs nowadays.

  41. riverrat commented on Mar 4

    Interesting thread. There are similar ones going on the jazz and vintage audio geek chat groups I frequent. Interest in vintage audio gear – the stuff many posters here may fondly remember from the 1970’s – is growing. Just look at prices on eBay for higher end vintage Marantz receivers. And there is evidence that interest in vinyl is also growing, mainly because you need a pretty high end CD player to even approximate the warm smooth sonic qualities of an LP. I’m not going back to vinyl, and to be sure, it will probably remain a niche market but the trend is interesting. SACD had promise, but they shot themselves right through the foot by making them non-copyable.

    I think there’d be a bigger market for legal music downloading in my demographic group (~50 yrs) if MP3 sonics didn’t suck. Younger music consumers may not notice or care – ignorance is bliss if you’ve never heard quality playback. But I think a different business model for downloads could improve the music industry’s bottom line. In addition to the sonic quality issue, old school music consumers like me really miss the art that came with LP covers – album art was an art form unto itself, along with the various blurbs and info that came with it. CDs at least have a small version of this, and the “mini-lp” style Japanese jazz releases are very cool because they are an exact replica of the original LP cover.

    I’d like to see what would happen if downloads were available – at different price points – in at least a couple of different audio qualities, say MP3 and some lossless file type. But more importantly, I’d like to see them available with additional content such as a high rez scan of the album art, and perhaps artist biographies, tour info, etc. There are many possibilities. The consumer could then choose the quality and amount of content they wanted pay for and download.

    I’m moving to CD quality, PC-based playback using FLACs ripped from my CDs, played through an inexpensive USB DAC and piped into my vintage Sansui amp with just a pair of RCA cables. I have over a thousand CDs, but I’m gradually selling off the mainstream stuff and retaining – for now – the more obscure jazz and world music titles. I’ve never downloaded a single song – again because MP3s suck – but if lossless files were available to download WITH THE ALBUM ART I might very well consider paying for downloads. Oh yes, and it would need to cost considerably less than $18.99. I agree that the price of CDs is a huge disincentive and a ripoff. Even though I still buy CDs, I just about never pay more than about $10.

  42. Rob Dawg commented on Mar 4

    My two teens are extremely popular for their iPods. Well okay, great kids but also their iPods. Turns out 80s Boston punk and 70s HS classic rock are quality tunes worthy of the ears of the latest generation.

    The mystery is how to make money when the English Beat are in the ears of kids too young to drive and Liquorish Pizza is bankrupt.

  43. chaseee commented on Mar 5

    I’m 19 years old, and just this year, came to realize how much i miss having a physical piece of media to hold. I have downloaded music ever since Napster boomed, but over time, all the music i had received through the internet, meant almost nothing, compared to the music i bought on a CD.

    With today’s music scheme of what i like to call, “disposable music”, it really is disposable. It’s extremely easy to click that “Buy” button in iTunes, but a few months from now you won’t have the urge to listen to it. There is no connection with digital music compared to physically getting up, going out, and hunting for that Album you really want. Get home, open it up, and listen to while admiring the artwork/lyrics. This also backs up the fact that digital music has no value. I’m not going to resell all my iTunes bought music years down the road. Or, “Here son, these were my faves back when i was your age”, and hand him a freaking hard drive.

    Digital music is stripped, plain, and boring. Not to mention the quality is nothing, even compared to CDs (and don’t get me started on vinyl’s).

    Here’s something to think about. Say i have you over at my house to hang out. Somehow we get on topic of what kind of music taste we have, and i say, “Here, check out my collection!” and point to the computer….
    Now take that same situation, but instead i open a couple doors and pull out some shoeboxes from under the bed packed with CDs/records.

    Which would you rather enjoy?

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