How the compact disc lost its shine
Thirty years ago this month, Dire Straits released their fifth album, Brothers in Arms. En route to becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time, it revolutionised the music industry. For the first time, an album sold more on compact disc than on vinyl and passed the 1m mark. Three years after the first silver discs had appeared in record shops, Brothers in Arms was the symbolic milestone that marked the true beginning of the #CD era.
“Brothers in Arms was the first flag in the ground that made the industry and the wider public aware of the CD’s potential,” says the BPI’s Gennaro Castaldo, who began a long career in retail that year. “It was clear this was a format whose time had come.”
As Greg Milner writes in his book Perfecting Sound Forever, the compact disc became “the fastest-growing home entertainment product in history”. CD sales overtook vinyl in 1988 and cassettes in 1991. The 12cm optical disc became the biggest money-spinner the music industry had ever seen, or will ever be likely to see. “In the mid-90s, retailers and labels felt indestructible,” says Rob Campkin, who worked for HMV between 1988 and 2004. “It felt like this was going to last for ever.”