Best Buy to Pull CDs, Target Threatens to Pay Labels for CDs Only When Customers Buy Them

If the majors don't play ball and give in to Target's new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format.

Even though digital is on the upswing, physical is still performing relatively well on a global basis -- if not in the U.S. market, where CD sales were down 18.5 percent last year. But things are about to get worse here, if some of the noise coming out of the big-box retailers comes to fruition.

Best Buy has just told music suppliers that it will pull CDs from its stores come July 1. At one point, Best Buy was the most powerful music merchandiser in the U.S., but nowadays it's a shadow of its former self, with a reduced and shoddy offering of CDs. Sources suggest that the company's CD business is nowadays only generating about $40 million annually. While it says it's planning to pull out CDs, Best Buy will continue to carry vinyl for the next two years, keeping a commitment it made to vendors. The vinyl will now be merchandised with the turntables, sources suggest. 

Meanwhile, sources say that Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis. Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit. With consignment, the inventory risk shifts back to the labels.

According to those sources, Target gave the ultimatum to both music and video suppliers in the fourth quarter of last year that it wants to switch to scanned-based trading, with a target date of Feb. 1. But while it is proceeding to push DVD vendors to switch to scan-based trading terms (i.e. the chain would pay for DVDs after they are sold or scanned while being rung up at the register), it has moved the deadline back to music suppliers to either April 1 or May 1. So far, music manufacturers are not sure what they are going to do, but sources within the various camps say that at least one major is leaning no, while the other two majors are undecided.

If the majors don't play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format.

Target has greatly reduced its music presence over the years. Once upon a time carried as many as 800 music titles, and nowadays seems to carry less than 100 titles in most stores. Yet, it can still be a powerful force on big titles. For example, the chain moved over 500,000 CDs of Taylor Swift's Reputation album.

Music manufacturers suggest they are waiting to see what happens with DVDs. If the studios don't give into Target's demands, will Target pull DVDs from the store? How that plays out will likely influence what happens in music, sources suggest.

Yet a statement from Target seems to suggest that the chain will remain committed to entertainment software, even if it tinkers with its business model. "Entertainment has been and continues to be an important part of Target’s brand," says the company in a statement. "We are committed to working closely with our partners to bring the latest movies and music titles, along with exclusive content, to our guests. The changes we’re evaluating to our operating model, which shows a continued investment in our Entertainment business, reflect a broader shift in the industry and consumer behavior."

Feb. 5, 6:50 p.m. EST — Updated with Target statement.