Billboard Explains: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of CDs

Before MP3s and streaming services entered the conversation, there were CDs — the shiny disk that made history and an impact on music.

In Japan on Oct. 1, 1982, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street became the first CD to go on sale. The CD format offered everything vinyl and cassette tapes didn’t: digital audio with no surface hiss, while offering clean sound, longer playing time, and immediate access to any track.

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“The CD had this sort of futuristic mystique to it,” says Steve Knopper, Billboard editor at large. “It was a pristine sound for most of us who spent our childhood carrying crates of records. … Having CDs was so much more convenient and efficient.”

But CDs weren’t always loved.

There was pushback from labels, manufactures, and retailers who didn’t immediately embrace this concept of digital audio. It wasn’t until the late ’80s when CDs surpassed LPs in volume and revenue for the first time.

CDs sales then jumped in the U.S. during the 2000s, with 730 million sold. However, in the mid-2000s, thanks to MP3s, Napster and other music-sharing sites started to replace CDs. By the 2010s, streaming became the go-to, and in 2020, only 40 million CDs were sold in the U.S. — the lowest in 35 years.

Nonetheless, there could be a comeback with artists such as BTS, Billie Eilish, and Olivia Rodrigo giving new life to CDs. The shiny plastic disc is still sentimental to those looking to support their favorite artists, and remains the music format of choice in places like Japan.

Watch the latest episode of Billboard Explains above to learn more about the rise and fall and rise again of CDs.

After the video, catch up on more Billboard Explains videos and learn about the evolution of girl groups, BBMAs, NFTs, SXSW, the magic of boy bands, American Music Awards, the Billboard Latin Music Awards, the Hot 100 chart, how R&B/hip-hop became the biggest genre in the U.S., how festivals book their lineups, Billie Eilish’s formula for success, the history of rap battles, nonbinary awareness in music, the Billboard Music Awards, the Free Britney movement, rise of K-pop in the U.S., why Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six albums, the boom of hit all-female collaborations, how Grammy nominees and winners are chosen, why songwriters are selling their publishing catalogs, how the Super Bowl halftime show is booked and why Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” was able to shoot to No. 1 on the Hot 100.

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