CDs shine as UK music sales in 2023 jump to near record figure


Photograph: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

Sales of CDs rose last year for the first time in two decades, helping to lift the UK’s total spending on music to the highest level since the days when Destiny’s Child, Limp Bizkit and David Gray were topping the album charts.

The value of all music sales – including spending on streaming, vinyl, CDs and downloads – rose 9.6% in 2023 to reach £2.2bn, just 0.08% shy of the record 22 years earlier, according to the Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA).

The biggest-selling album was The Weeknd’s The Highlights, although Taylor Swift’s album releases dominated the market, while the best-performing track was Miley Cyrus’s Flowers.

Sales of CDs rose 2%, as a result of price inflation and the success of more expensive exclusive albums being snapped up by music buffs, some of whom are opting for the still relatively cheap CD format instead of, or as well as, vinyl.

While the number of CDs sold continued to fall – by almost 7% – that marked a dramatic improvement from the 20% slide in 2022 and was the lowest rate of decline since 2015.

CDs – which retail at about £10 or less for an album, about half the price of a similar LP – are battling with vinyl as the format favoured by trendy students and middle-aged music fans.

“It’s about collectors discovering CDs,” the ERA chief executive, Kim Bayley, said. “CDs are a digital format you can keep forever, and that’s attractive when people are subscribing across lots of different services. There are a lot of exclusives and memorabilia.”

She added that the number of CDs being sold was expected to stabilise, or possibly increase, because more independent retailers were beginning to stock the format amid improved demand, as young people joined older fans of the format as a way to show off their music collections.

Phil Halliday, the managing director of the UK’s biggest music and entertainment retailer, HMV, said the chain had been seeing strong sales of deluxe collectible albums by bands for a while: “demand for that is kind of fervent”. He said that this year the retailer had also been surprised by teenage shoppers snapping up CDs and was increasingly catering for their tastes.

“They want something they can put on their shelf that says they like Joy Division or Nirvana, and they don’t want to spend what a record costs,” he said. “A CD has got a lot of the same as a vinyl album – like liner notes.”

Vinyl sales also benefited from demand for physical music formats, bouncing back from a tricky year in 2022, rising by 18% in value terms and nearly 12% in volume last year.

However, sales of physical music formats remain very small in comparison with streaming, sales of which rose 9.8% to £2.2bn last year, compared with a total £311m for vinyl and CDs.

An overall 8% rise in sales of digital entertainment, including games, video and music, drove a 7% increase in the total market to £11.9bn. Sales of physical videos and games sank by 18.8% and 4.4% respectively.

Digital video sales rose 11.6% so that film overtook gaming to regain its position as the UK’s biggest entertainment source for the first time in about a decade as newer services such as Paramount+ and ITVX added to the choice available from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. The biggest-selling video title of the year was Avatar – the Way of Water, which generated sales of 560,000.

Total sales of video rose 10% to £4.9bn, while total sales of games rose 2.9% to £4.7bn.

The biggest-selling console game was the latest iteration of the Fifa-backed football game EA Sports FC 24, with the new title selling in almost identical quantities to its predecessor, about 2.39m copies.