Today marks the 30th anniversary of a musical format many of us grew up with: the compact disc. It's been three decades since the first CD went on sale in Japan. The shiny discs came to dominate music industry sales, but their popularity has faded in the digital age they helped unleash. The CD is just the latest musical format to rise and fall in roughly the same 30-year cycle.
Compact discs had been pressed before 1982, but the first CD to officially go on sale was Billy Joel's 52nd Street.
The CD was supposed to have the last word when it came to convenience and sound quality. And for a while, it did. The CD dominated record sales for more than two decades — from the late 1980s until just last year, when sales of digital tracks finally surpassed those of physical albums. It's a cycle that has played out many times in the history of the music industry, with remarkable consistency.
Sam Brylawski, the former head of the recorded sound division at the Library of Congress, says, "If you look at the last 110, 115 years, the major formats all have about 20 to 30 years of primacy."
He says one of the biggest factors driving this cycle is a desire on the part of manufacturers to sell new players every generation or so. "The real money — the real profits — for companies have been in the sales of hardware. That is to say, machines that play back recordings." ...