Streaming rules the roost, the vinyl revival is in full swing and cassette culture is back (in the underground, at least). But what of the fall guy of the format wars? In an article for the Quietus, James Toth has offered an excellent defence of "unfashionable, unsexy" CDs, arguing that the supposed reasons for their obsolescence are very much exaggerated and that in many ways they represent the best of all worlds.
While acknowledging that CDs are unlikely ever to acquire the collectability of vinyl and also lack the same level of visual and aesthetic appeal, Toth notes that they're more practical, portable and cheaper than records, and also flags up the fact that having whole albums on one side (rather than having to find somewhere to insert a side break - often impossible to do without being intrusive) can be a definite advantage.
Compared to streaming, meanwhile, CDs are largely of identical sound quality but also allow old-school materialists like me the opportunity to physically possess the music they love. As Toth astutely observes, those who are keen to kill off physical formats, such as Apple, are "counting on it not occurring to you that if you purchase a CD or record, you own it forever; if you're willing to pay for monthly access to it, you're paying for it forever".
And the benefits of CDs aren't only for the listener. The cost and time consumed by the process of pressing vinyl copies has prompted some musicians to return to releasing material on cassettes. CDs, too, are quick and easy to reproduce.
I'll admit that part of my appreciation for Toth's piece is that I was one of those who, like him, "came of age as consumers alongside the rise of the format". I've never been a vinyl junkie and use streaming services with a degree of self-loathing. While I have a sizeable cassette collection (which has been slowly degrading over the years), CDs have always been my primary means of consuming music and, unlike (it seems) everyone else, I've never stopped buying them. If the CD does indeed come back from the (near-)dead, then for once I can claim to have been ahead of the curve.