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Death of Physical Formats – Long Live Digital!

Old time technology: remember those rotary phones and record players the size of a chest of drawers? The advance of digital has been rapid with several items falling victim to new technology. Here’s how digital has affected two of our former household favourites:

Physical Formats History

Records and CDs

Vinyl records; for some people the best way to listen to music is on vinyl. Columbia Records, home to some of the biggest recording artists of the past 50 years, was the first recording label to use vinyl records. The first ones to be launched were albums by Frank Sinatra and a classical album called the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in 1948. Other labels soon followed suit.Death of Physical Formats – Long Live Digital!


And such was the success of vinyl, the use of them in the record industry endured for subsequent decades. The decline in vinyl sales was as a result of a blooming – and subsequently booming – disk market. Developed in the 1970s by big brands Philips and Sony, CDs became commercially available in 1982. Sales of audio CDs peaked around the turn of the 21st century. But even these would be supplanted as the world went digital.

And where previous recording types such as vinyl, cassettes and CDs had co-existed to an extent, the impact of digital was deadly. The first decade of the 21st century and the introduction of digital to the music industry had such an effect that revenues were slashed. In 2001 the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s (IFPI) annual report put the 2000 global music market as being worth $36.9 billion. But by 2010 this had plummeted by more than half to $15.9 billion.

The internet spawned not just the digital but also the download age. People could get their music more quickly and cheaper than ever before. Record labels, once rich and all powerful, have struggled to keep up and concessions have been made. Universal, the label that first produced vinyl, is one of those which tried to move with the times and in 2007 forged a partnership with phone giants Nokia. But it’s been a case of too little too late for some and some record labels haven’t survived the digital boom.

VHS tape and DVDs

In cupboards and shelves around the country, videos and DVD box sets sit, unused and frequently gathering dust. Once these were the cornerstones of home entertainment but now they’ve been succeeded. Because the long arm of digital isn’t just reaching into the wallets of record companies, DVD and video sales have also been affected.

VHS tapes first launched commercial in 1976. And after a brief war with Betamax, VHS machines and the tapes became a staple of every home. The success continued into the next decade but much like the move from cassette to CD, in the mass market videos gave way to DVD. It was invented and developed by a four-way partnership between Philips, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba in 1995.

Long Live Digital!

In 2001 the DVD Entertainment Group reported that in the US sales of DVD had surpassed VHS tapes for the first time. In those 12 months sales of DVDs reached $4.6 billion which was just over two times more than sales in the previous year. But the war wasn’t over just yet because some 96 million American households owned VCR machines – almost four times the number of homes with DVDs.

But even this would eventually be eroded. Some six years later Hollywood ditched the format in favour of the DVD with The History of Violence being the last big film to be released on VHS tape, and in 2008 the last major tape supplier also switched to DVD.

And with HD friendly addition Blu-ray, we might have expected DVDs to be around for a long time. Except by 2010 sales were already dropping. And in the UK, market research company Mintel reported that the number of DVD players and recorders had fallen in just under six million, the lowest number since 2003.

The rise of Sky Plus, YouTube and watching TV and films online has changed our viewing habits forever. And whilst many will have gathered a sizeable collection of DVDs and VHS tapes, it begs the question, how much longer will they keep them before ditching.

Olawale Daniel is a tech writer that has a love of gadgetry and everything “going digital”. He hosts the weekly DIGITAL REV podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google Plus via @CoolCash4Live

By Olawale Daniel

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8 replies on “Death of Physical Formats – Long Live Digital!”

I couldn’t bare seeing that physical CDs won’t be anymore. Anyway, Digital is somewhat easier, Awesome share Olawale! Cheers 🙂

Which one of them? Is it the left-sticky widget or the one beside post content?

BTW, thanks for commenting 🙂

I was sad to see vinyl go but I soon embraced the convenience of CDs… I stopped buying CDs as soon as iTunes took off really. My Vinyl and CDs are now all neatly boxed up in the loft. Saying that, vinyl has seemingly found a new lease of life with limited pressings etc for collectors. I think vinyl is a special case – I don’t think CDs and DVDs will be so revered.

Eventhough the physical format is going. The digital cloud will come into full effectiveness when the internet finally gets to all nook and cranny.

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