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In September of 2009, the re-mastered and digitally remixed versions of several classic albums by The Beatles were released on CD. Numerous industry publications predicted that this would be the last great sales boom for CD’s, which in the span of only 30 years have seemingly completed their life-cycle. How did this innovative technology—initially derided by vinyl-only snobs and purists for it’s ‘lesser’ audio quality—so quickly become passé? Are the CD death-knells premature from an industry grown hungry for quick profit in the form of technological turnaround?
The CD is still quite capable of holding its own as an audio format. Technically, a commercially available CD can hold 80 minutes of standard, or non-compressed, audio. Instead of the traditional grooves on a vinyl record, a CD has ‘pits’ and ‘lands’ in which the audio data is stored. The pits are generally 100 nanometers to 500 nanometers wide, and up to 3.5 micrometers in length. A 780 nanometer semiconductor laser reads the height difference between the pits and the lands. The intensity change in light produced from the height difference is interpreted by a photodiode, which consequently translates this into sound by creating a binary code which is reversed through a process known as the Cross Interleaved Reed-Solomon Coding.
In terms of space constraints, CD’s take up much less room than vinyl, and can be stored in more flexible conditions. However, the surface of a CD can scratch easily, ruining the audio data on the disc. A periodic gentle polish with a soft cloth can keep the surface of a CD in good playing condition.
The peak sales year for CD’s was 2000, in which 942.49 million CD’s were sold. Advances in file sharing on the internet began to steadily chip away at the sales figures of CD’s, until 2008, in which a new low of 427.89 million CD’s were sold. However, many industry experts blame this downturn not on the CD’s themselves as a format, but rather the audio that was placed on to them. Some theorize that excessive greed and indifference to market trends on the part of major record companies brought about the steady erosion of CD sales.
Although there has been an aggressive push to replace the CD with newer formats in the hope of engineering a massive consumer media turnover purchasing wave, the CD, much like The Beatles, may have not yet seen its final days.