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Goodbye CDs, farewell DVDs... they told us you were indestructible, how wrong that turned out to be

Doomed discs: the ailing CD market fell again in 2018, with sales down nearly a quarter as streaming and downloads kept chipping away at their popularity
Doomed discs: the ailing CD market fell again in 2018, with sales down nearly a quarter as streaming and downloads kept chipping away at their popularity

By Joel Dimmock

Millennials get a lot of grief. They're either fragile, frivolous, or just infuriatingly young. This week came the shock realisation that everyone born in 2000 is now a fully-fledged Gen Z adult. The passing of time can catch you out like that. One thing we can't accuse either generation of, though, is propping up the ailing CD market.

Sales fell again in 2018, by nearly a quarter. Streaming and downloads carry on chipping away at the edifice and even vinyl, which has been cheered as the saviour of the physical music market, saw barely any growth at all.

It may feel like something is being taken away from us: the ability to touch, store, dust, or misplace our art (and in the end to drag it along to the charity shop, or down to the tip). In truth, though, it is an entirely reasonable act of self-preservation.

I don't need to mount a defence of any generational cohort. Doubtless, this lot will be as glorious, futile and catastrophic as all the others. But we should extend a hand of sympathy over the crushing cultural burden we have passed down.

The demands on a 19-year-old now are immense. If they are going to learn the code of adult society, they need the athletic mind of a pop-culture polymath: the sheer volume and availability of cultural material has exploded through every decade.

The number of music albums released per year in the US alone more than doubled in the decade to 2006. Just before the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the number was above 100,000.

Not every one is a smash, of course, but every year, new musical icons are minted, new essential references added to the list. Extrapolate that worldwide and it's a lot to take in.

Back in 2014, the British Film Institute warned that the number of films released at UK cinemas was at "ridiculous" levels when it hit 698. Last year, that number reached 760.

IMDb now lists more than half-a-million movies and more than 3.5 million TV episodes. And before we forget, there are, of course, 1,000 books to read before you die.

That's all before we look at "new media". When I was in my teens and 20s, that meant computer games. It felt like we played Mario Kart, or GoldenEye, for months - years even. In 2017, gaming platform Steam churned out more than 20 new releases a day. YouTube? More than 5,000 channels have 1.5 million-plus subscribers.

The idea of even attempting to store this volume of content in any kind of physical form seems ludicrous. Goodbye CDs, farewell DVDs. They told us you were indestructible, but that was painfully untrue - on both levels it turns out.

And there is more to consider. You see, when I was trying to make sense of the adult world and learn its language, the bygone cultural reference points required were pretty straightforward.

I could build a passing knowledge of the Beatles; I could take in the basics of Gone With The Wind and It's A Wonderful Life. TV was even easier. No one expected you to know much about Steptoe and Son, or Z-Cars, but as they were still on the few channels available, it sank in somehow.

Everything has changed. Will millennials, or Generation Z, bother to understand the artistic touchstones of other generations while living in their own relentless here-and-now? Will anyone under 20 ever watch old episodes of Big Train, or have the time to share in the rich narrative subtexts of Dunstan Checks In? Will they ever understand my - frankly niche - references?

The emergence of a documentary about something called "Bros" must be utterly confounding: what on earth are they talking about? Why are they calling it a "real-life Spinal Tap"? What is Spinal Tap?

The explosion of entertainment content is slowly killing CDs. It is also creating generational islands, adrift from each other.

No one can curate that volume of stuff, even when we no longer need to line our walls with it. The only real solution lies with the old-timers.

If they want to retain a cultural link to the kids, they need to jettison the artefacts of the past and run headlong into the frantic soup of the new.

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