But, contrary to many predictions, there has been no cliff. In fact, the CD occasionally shows signs of stubbornness. Of the 969,000 units sold of Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience in its first week of release, 53% were CDs and 43% were sold as mass merchants, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Sales undoubtedly benefitted from Target securing an exclusive two-CD set of the album with two exclusive tracks. Sixty-one percent of first-week sales of Taylor Swift's Red were CD sales. Nearly half (48.7%) of those sales came from mass merchants and 5.8% came from non-traditional retailers. Where there is a marketing partnership, there is an opportunity for the CD to shine.
Of course, these are industry-wide numbers. The fall of the CD will vary from company to company. A label without access to chains and mass merchants will likely get a higher percentage of revenue from digital sales than a label with a roster that gets radio play and has a roster of well known artists. A small label has indie stores and Amazon. A big label has Walmart, Best Buy, Target and all the others.
There is a bright side here. As years pass, there is less CD revenue to lose and deficits become more manageable. A 21.5% decline in 2009 equaled a loss of $1.2 billion in revenue. Last year, the 18.3% decline represented just $569 million in lost revenue. The smaller an annual loss in CD revenue becomes, the easier it will be for revenue from downloads, ad-supported streaming services, subscription services and vinyl sales to cover the difference. Last year, the gains in the latter four categories almost covered the $569-million drop in CD revenue as total recorded music revenues were down 0.9%.
It's arguable that the CD will ever go away completely -- at least within the next decade or two. Even if CD revenue drops 20% a year, the format will still have $217 million of revenues in 2023. That's not much, but it's over $50 million more than the $163 million done by vinyl records last year. As long as there is demand and there are manufacturers to fulfill that demand within a reasonable cost, expect to see the CD around for many more years.