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In-car entertainment is fast evolving, though the CD remains key for now

By | Published on Tuesday 3 November 2015


While most debate within the record industry centres on digital these days, labels are still selling a decent number of CDs, and while the format has been in decline for a decade and half now, it’s certainly not yet been consigned to the music format graveyard, globally or in the UK. Which possibly poses the question: who the fuck is buying all these compact discs?

It’s tempting to assume it’s all old people, though research suggests that it’s not as simple as that, and plenty of people in their 20s are still buying CDs. One reason for that may be in-car listening, because the new-fangled in-car digital-entertainment platforms we report on, every time a streaming music company announces its arrival on such services, are still only really built into higher end vehicles. Of course, you can usually plug a smartphone into a car’s stereo system, but plenty of people still rely on good old fashioned CDs when driving.

While new research commissioned by record label trade group BPI and retail association ERA reveals that 20% of new vehicles sold this year will come sans-CD player – because of the internet-connected-car revolution – that does mean 80% will still enable drivers to get their tunes off little plastic discs, if they so wish.

The research by specialist auto industry consultancy SBD, published last week, does reckon that internet-based audio systems are likely to overtake CD players in new cars by 2021, as the costs of net-connected entertainment systems come down and therefore get installed into a wider range of vehicles. But, given the importance of the used-car market – and the fact SBD reckons more new cars will have CD players than not for the next five years – at least some of the kids will keep buying discs for foreseeable future.

BPI boss Geoff Taylor muses: “Cars are the second most popular environment for listening to music after our homes, so are a key part of the music ecosystem. Manufacturers design their models a good four to five years before they hit the road, which in the past has seen in-car listening follow trends in music consumption rather than lead them, but rapid advances in automotive design suggests that in-car technology will play a far bigger role in shaping how we listen to music in the future”.

ERA CEO Kim Bayley added: “Just as in the home and via smartphone, digital services are pioneering new ways for music companies to reach the consumer and for music fans to access their favourite music [on the move]. The car is in many ways the final frontier for digital music, but one of the most striking things about this research is quite how resilient the compact disc is proving to be”.