Does Anyone in the World Still Buy CDs?
We went down to HMV, Fopp and Rough Trade to ask people: why?
Each week, us good people at Noisey get a hoard of little square parcels delivered to our office. And each week, we open these parcels dutifully, a little flutter of expectation in our bellies as we wonder, for the briefest of moments, what it could possibly be. A little square coffee table book perhaps, or a tiny frame to put a photograph in, or the flat end of a spade to bang things with. But no – each week, without fail, these little square parcels contain a shiny, buffed up CD alongside a friendly and unassuming, "Listen to me?" note – and we ask ourselves, not for the first time: what the actual fuck?
To most of us, the compact disc has been redundant for over a decade now. Ever since the iPod came along and we realised we no longer had to walk around the streets clutching a walkman the size of a dinner plate, CDs have gradually disappeared from view, like porn mags or video rental stores or successful marriages. The iPod has since gone that way too, because now everything is virtual, and the only way people listen to music is by sending money to large companies on a monthly basis so they can let you listen to songs when you have the internet, forever indebting us all to corporations for entertainment and rendering physical property ultimately meaningless.
All these memories of popular bygone items got me thinking: if CDs are redundant, which we can all agree they are (unless you need them as a piece of sporting apparatus), then why do so many shops still sell them? And more importantly, who dispenses with their cash for these compact discs of Christmas past? Granted, music shops are rarer than they used to be (RIP Virgin Megastore, Tower Records, Zavvi, and all the forgotten soldiers), but many of them still exist. The fact they are now even harder to find means there must be people who are leaving their houses and getting the bus to Fopp to drop actual tenners on CDs. What's going on? What are these people buying? To find the answers to such questions, I spent the afternoon at select stores meeting CD buyers, so I could interrogate them about their frankly freaky life choices.
Enlighten me, Bill. Why do you buy CDs?
I like having a physical object with the music in it, and I like stuff to read like a booklet. I've been buying CDs for a long, long time. The sound quality on an MP3 is nowhere near as good for a start. I copy some of my CDs and put them onto my iPod, which I still think is the best invention Apple ever did. I own hundreds of CDs. I went through a phase of mini discs, but that didn't last for long. I've got some tapes too, but nothing to play them on.
Isn't all that a bit of an effort though?
I don't really mind it. I've just been to America and I took a sack of CDs with me because I hate what they play on the radio. The bloody car I rented didn't have a CD player in it, and let me tell you, I was absolutely furious.
I can imagine!
I will be sad when cars don't have CD players at all. It's bound to happen soon, isn't it? Playlists, to me, are completely awful. I hate them.
Hate them?! That's a bit strong.
A CD tells a story about where that artist is at the time. It tells a whole story. You're not getting a story with one track. You're getting nothing.
Yeah, I can understand that. You're quite a poet, really.
I was browsing about three months ago and I bought this CD by Paul Hogan. I wrote to the guy in the post and and said, "I bought your CD and I loved it." He replied too, which was nice. He said he's doing some gigs later in the year. Today, I'll probably buy a handful of totally random CDs.
David, tell me, why are you here buying CDs?
I feel guilty if I illegally download music and the artists don't get the royalties. It's about my loyalty to the band.
That's nice of you. Do you still have a CD player at home then?
No, I tend to put the CD into the computer and then I turn the speakers up very loudly. That's how I do it.
What's the last CD you bought?
This one of Jack White. I like to be down with the youth.
Why CDs, Sarah?
I like them for when I'm driving because there's a CD player in my car.
That's a totally legit answer. Would you buy them otherwise?
I used to work in a record store, so I'm a fan of physical music to be honest. I'm a bit geeky about it – I like the packaging. I also buy vinyl for the same reason.
What's the last CD you bought?
So if someone bought you a CD for Christmas you wouldn't be like "Erm, what the fuck? This is useless."
No I'd be pleased, but I'd be secretly annoyed it wasn't vinyl. CDs are cheap.
Who wants cheapskate mates, eh?
Why are you right here, right now, buying CDs?
I just hate downloading. I like to own my music.
But you can own a Spotify account, right?
No! I want to read it, I like taking it to work, I like opening it and having a look what's inside. I can put it on my iPod if I like.
Do all your mates buy CDs too? Or are you alone in your musical puritanism?
I don't think so. They probably download. To be honest, I haven't asked them. Maybe I will.
Hi Lily. You're a young person, so why are you buying CDs?
Yeah, they're kind of useless now, but if I have the money I'll buy them because I like to own my music physically.
Do you own anything else that's useless?
Probably. Everything is useless if you think about it, right?
It's too early in the day for such existentialism. What's the last CD you bought?
I bought my boyfriend Dizzee Rascal's Boy in Da Corner for 50p in a charity shop.
Bargain! Thanks Lily.
How come you're in HMV buying CDs with your hard earned cash?
Just because I like physical products – I think there will always be a place for the physical medium in music. I don't like downloading stuff on iTunes, only for it to get lost. I like the feeling of rummaging through CDs, deciding what to play that day.
But CDs are a bit shit aren't they? They don't even sound that good. And they're so easy to lose and scratch. Why not vinyl?
It just costs too much money to be honest. it's all about the price difference.
Do you have a Walkman?
No, normally I convert my CDs to MP3 and listen to them on my phone.
Hey! Do you buy CDs?
What you doing down the CD aisle?
I don't know. I think I got lost.
Would you ever buy a CD in the future?
No. I have an app on my phone where I can download music.
Totally. Thanks Hannah.
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