CD is still king in Japan

A woman listens to music inside Tower Records, a popular music shop in Japan. (Photo by: The Korea Herald)

A woman listens to music inside Tower Records, a popular music shop in Japan. (Photo by: The Korea Herald)

Globally, compact discs have been buckling downwards in sales since the emergence of online streaming. Their steady decline has been felt immensely by the music industry; particularly in the United States where CD sales dropped 17 percent last year. In countries like Sweden (home of the sixth highest download speed in the world), sales are sparse – making up a dismal 20 percent. Yet, apart from any Western influence (and in a bubble of their own), Japan still clings to this precursing technology.

As the New York Times reports, CDs make up a whopping 85 percent of music sold to Japanese inhabitants. Being home to Sony, Nintendo, Panasonic and plenty more tech companies, it’s understandably counterintuitive that Japan continue this sort of attachment. In fact, digital sales in Japan haven’t even remained stagnant; they’ve dropped “from almost $1 billion in 2009 to just $400 million last year.”

So what’s triggered this ever-fastening bond to CDs?

Stereogum put it best, saying: Japan “is a business culture that ‘still views the digital business with suspicion’ mixed with a market that values collectibles.” That’s, in part, the reason why greatest hits compilations always seem to have success overseas. Despite being a longstanding early adopter of new technology, this doesn’t mean Japan will covet each new invention – especially with national laws in motion to benefit certain market areas, like the CD. In Japan, retailer restrictions have been set up to prevent price markings of CDs to go beyond $20.


A group listing of every member from Japan’s ultra popular girl pop group, AKB48. (Art by: NEO-Musume)

Popular female groups like AKB48 redefined the potential of the market by planting tickets inside their CD cases, which could be redeemed for live event entry. This urged avid fans to buy multiple copies of an album, giving a boost to physical copy sales.

As Lucian Grainge, chairman of Universal Music Group, told the New York Times, “Japan is utterly, totally unique.”


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