Streaming killed the Musica star

“No one loves CDs. They are not as cool as vinyl, not as personal as tapes. They are unlovely plastic, shiny discs that scratch easily, and their covers crack.” Such was the dim assessment of Guardian Australia columnist Brigid Delaney in 2018, in reaction to compact disk sales being eclipsed by streaming platforms. 

And although it is perhaps a stretch to say no one loves CDs, it’s plausible that most people do not love them enough to spend their money on them. 

Last week, Clicks announced that after 29 years it will shut down the country’s leading music and entertainment retail brand, Musica. This will constrain customers’ shopping choices for CDs, DVDs and games.

The company said the closure — effective at the end of May 2021 — is due to the industry’s steady decline over several years. Clicks can no longer compete with the digital consumption of music, movies and games. 

Bret Dugmore, the owner of record store Mr Vinyl, said Musica occupied massive retail stores in prime locations, which means high rentals, while music has increasingly become a low mark-up product. 

It would take massive sales volumes to sustain a business in the music space in those locations, he added. 

Dugmore said that as downloading and streaming became popular, CDs, which restrict a listener to a particular playlist in a particular order, were no longer the most convenient medium. “No music medium is more convenient than streaming platforms,” he said. 

Dugmore maintains that no music medium comes close to vinyl when it comes to the quality of the experience. “This is why CDs have become mostly defunct — they’re neither convenient in the face of streaming, nor do they offer a better mindful listening and collecting experience than vinyl,” he said. 

According to Clicks’ financial report of that year, by 2014 Musica was still gaining market share in all product categories and grew sales by 1.4%. But the uptick was not thanks to CD sales, but rather due to the fact that competitors were exiting the market. Musica’s main competitor at the time, Look & Listen, had filed for business rescue. 

Even though it now had the lion’s share of the market, Musica had to make itself more attractive to customers to survive. The company tried to expand its offerings by selling electronic products, headphones for streaming music and gaming gear, but this strategy did not yield the hoped-for financial results. 

News of the closure may have come as a shock for people who grew up frequenting Musica to purchase CDs or DVDs. But music collector Vusi Hlatywayo says he knew Musica’s closure was imminent. 

“I am not surprised. I just forgot that it exists,” he says, laughing. He added that with the increase in Spotify users, iTtunes, and even YouTube, Musica was “not going to go far”.

Hlatywayo said he first listens to music on streaming platforms, and if he loves the album, he will purchase a physical copy on vinyl. Purchasing a CD is his last resort: “I would personally buy CDs when I cannot get the music on vinyl,” he said, adding that some artists’ music can only be found on CD. 

In the fourth quarter 2020, Spotify, which only launched in 2008, claimed it had 354-million active users and 155-million premium subscribers. iTunes, launched in 2001, claimed 60-million subscribers in June 2019. It has since not publicly released updated numbers of its subscribers. 

CD sales pale in comparison with these numbers. According to the Recording Industry of South Africa, (RiSA) in 2020, only 506 000 units of CDs were sold in the country, bringing in R21-million, compared to R61‑million in 2019. It added that CD sales had fallen by 77.9% from 2018. 

While there has been a decline in CD sales in the country, South Africa is only following the trend of developed countries such as the US. A Recording Industry Association of America report found that in the first six months of 2020, CDs only brought in $129.9-million. In contrast, sales of vinyl records accounted for $232.1-million of music sales. 

This is the first time in 34 years that sales of the old-school technology surpassed CDs. 

Aub Driver, a public relations officer for Discogs, an online music platform, echoed the sentiment that vinyl is more popular than CDs. 

Driver said he anticipated the future of music would likely include a swing back to the physical realm, as people rebuilt their music collections. 

“CDs will continue to exist, but will never be as popular. For instance, most major car manufacturers have stopped including CD players and the shift will keep going in favour of vinyl,” he said. 

Where does this closure leave the artists? The chief executive of RiSA, Advocate Nhlanhla Sibisi said that the closure of Musica is likely to have a significant impact on genres that have not fully migrated to digital platforms, such as traditional, jazz, gospel and Afrikaans music.  

“Musica probably represented 80% of the physical market but probably less than 10% of record company turnover,” he said.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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