Friday, December 4, 2015

On CDs as Gifts

Earlier this week, I rang my mum to ask what granny (her mum) might like for Christmas.

"There's a CD she's asked for," came the reply. "I'll text you the name of it."

Now, I'm always happy to have an excuse to go CD shopping, and obviously my gran can request whatever she wants for Christmas - I still haven't received that text, but I daresay I'll be happy to go into Spillers or HMV once it comes through and purchase whatever's desired. Nevertheless, this conversation reminded me of a rather grim thought I'd had the previous week when reading about the exorbitant sales that Adele's new album, 25, had been racking up.


Within seven days of its release, 25 sold 800,000 copies in the UK alone. Its first week in America saw 3.38 million copies shifted. Obviously, downloads account for a large portion of both numbers, but not as large as you might think - this article suggests that it's been a roughly even split between digital sales and CDs so far, at least in the USA.

While I have been allowing myself to embrace download culture a little more of late (I've bought quite a bit of music from Bandcamp this year), I'm still very much a proponent of buying the CD and owning a physical representation of the music wherever practical. With this in mind, you might have expected me to welcome the news of Adele's record-breaking CD sales; with download stores and streaming services occupying an ever-larger chunk of the market, this proves that there are still plenty of people like me who are keen to go out and buy the actual object. Right?

Well, not necessarily. For one thing, I'm not a massive fan of Adele's music, and being the elitist assclanger I am, it's hard not to wish 25's commercial good fortune on an album that deserved it (like Estelle's True Romance, although I *still* haven't seen that CD on any shelves around here yet).

But that's not all. There's a reason 25 (along with the latest releases from Justin Bieber and One Direction) came out around this time of year, and I doubt it has anything to do with my own previously stated belief that music sounds better in late autumn. Selling millions of CDs is undoubtedly an impressive feat in this day and age, but I do wonder how those sales figures would look if you discounted all the people who bought the album for somebody else.

Convenient as they are, downloads are kind of difficult to wrap and put under a Christmas tree. CDs, on the other hand, make great gifts...

"What shall I get Alice for Christmas this year? I know - she really liked that Carly Rae Jepsen song we heard in the car yesterday, so I'll pop to HMV and buy her the album!"

...but are easy to ignore when the music is for your own personal use.

"I really enjoyed that Carly Rae Jepsen track that came on in the car yesterday. I think I'll download it on iTunes."

I suspect that Adele has succeeded where other artists - other popular artists - have failed because 25 seems like it would make a good present for [insert relative here]. In fact, it's the sort of gift that would work even for someone you barely know: your child's teacher, for example, or your project manager at work.

I'm in danger of slipping into simply slagging off Adele again, so I'll close with this: I'm a firm believer in the value of the physical artefact, and if the people who bought all those copies of 25 feel the same way, that's fantastic. If, on the other hand, they bought it in the same way most of us buy tubs of Cadbury's Roses at this time of year, then I'm not sure that's good news for the music industry at all.

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