Comment: the CD is 25 today, but who’s celebrating?

Exactly 25 years ago today, 17 August 1982, Philips manufactured the world’s first compact disc at its factory in Langenhagen, near Hanover in Germany.

Comment: the CD is 25 today, but who's celebrating?

That first disc – The Visitors by Abba – was joined by around 150 other recordings by the time the first CD player was introduced in Japan in November and in Europe the following March.

With their superior sound quality (on a standard home hi-fi at least) and convenience, CDs kick-started a technological revolution in the music industry and ushered in an unprecedented boom in music sales, as record labels persuaded most of us to replace our vinyl collections with racks of CDs.

The CD also transformed the PC. What was once almost exclusively a business tool became the media hub we know today once people had the tools – the software, CD drives and the MP3 format – to rip CDs to their hard drive.

That in turn is slowly transforming the music industry again, with MP3, WMA and AAC files on a hard or flash drive increasingly our preferred method for storing and listening to music.

But, to badly misquote the band, will the CD eat itself?

Where we once archived computer data to CDs, we now back up to hard drives and web storage. Not to mention the fact we archive to DVDs, the CD’s offspring.

Many will not mourn the CD’s passing. The 12cm plastic disc has played a significant part in the transformation of popular music from an artform to just another commodity on a balance sheet, with four huge corporations dominating the market.

CDs themselves are an easily traded and duplicated commodity, unlike the tactile, vinyl records they replaced, which continue to be valued for their aesthetic – and some will argue their richer, warmer sound.

Ironically while CD sales continue to decline, one sector of the music market is enjoying a renaissance. Sales of seven inch vinyl singles have risen from just over 200,000 units in 2000, to more than 1m units in 2006.

In as little as ten years the CD could be a historical curiosity, like many a vinyl record boxed in the attic to gather dust.

The question is, will you miss it?

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