Happy 25th Birthday, CD! Now, Get Lost!
Or so the masses seem to be saying.
The Compact Disc is indeed 25 years old today. On August 17, 1982, the first discs were born in Germany. They contained Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony, but the first commercially available release would be Billy Joel's 52nd Street. CDs and CD players initially went on sale in Europe and Japan; it wouldn't be until 1983 that the format reached America.
Back then, Pieter Kramer was the head of the optical research group at Philips (which co-invented the format with Sony). That's him in the right-hand photo, which was taken on Monday. He's holding a model of the first CD player.
S&V has already tracked the history of the CD and what lies ahead - see The Future of Recorded Music - so I won't bother rehashing anything here. What I will say is that, personally, I was happy to welcome the CD a quarter-century ago - and happy to say goodbye to the LP and its surface noise, user-unfriendliness, and frequent coloration that was often mistaken for "warmth."
Are we now, in turn, saying goodbye to the CD? Well, from 2001 to 2006, CD sales fell from their historical peak of 712 million to 553 million. That's a drop of 22%. Record companies are scrambling, lousy digital files are proliferating, and the perceived "value" of music is withering away. As Kramer told AP writer Toby Sterling on Monday: "The MP3 and all the little things that the boys and girls have in their pockets can replace the CD, absolutely."
But it has been a good ride for the format. I've enjoyed it immensely - although, truth be told, I've been enjoying my journeys with SACD and DVD-A even more. Whither those formats?
"You never know how long a standard will last," Kramer said. "But the CD was a solid, good standard - and still is." -Ken Richardson