You can’t play them in newer cars. You can’t use them with most laptop computers. And unless you own a Sony Discman that somehow still works — and you don’t mind getting strange looks in public — you can’t go for a walk or run with them nowadays.
It’s a conundrum many music fans are facing as they clean house while under coronavirus stay-at-home orders: What should I do with these boxes/crates/shelves of old CDs that I haven’t listened to in years?
Those old compact discs you loaded up on at $15 a pop are now worth pennies on the Clinton administration dollar, thanks to a double-whammy change in consumers’ listening habits.
First, advances in MP3s and now music-streaming services such as Spotify made it possible to carry tens of thousands of albums in the palm of your hand. Conversely, many fans have reverted back to vinyl as their preferred format for “physical” music.
Sales of new CDs have plummeted by about 90% over the past decade. Last year saw a particularly sharp decline, with a drop of more than 25% from 2018 — about the same increase that streaming numbers saw in the same time frame.
Even those of us who’ve stuck up for CDs in the past have to admit that the thousands in our basement have grown superfluous. And cumbersome. Why dig for that Alanis Morissette or House of Pain CD when you can easily find it on your phone?
It’s always possible to rip your CDs onto a hard drive to save them in MP3 format before you get rid of them, but that also seems to be an increasingly outdated mode of listening. So here are some options for paring back the old collection.
Sell them to stores
Surprisingly, many record shops still buy and sell used CDs, as do some used-book stores. Bob Fuchs, general manager of The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, said used sales have held strong even while new CDs have tanked because “they’re so cheap now, you can go home with four or five new albums for about $20.”
Still, Fuchs acknowledged that his store only pays about 25 cents per disc (“up to $1 for something really good”), and given the datedness of many people’s CD collections, the staff is very choosy about the shape they’re in.
“They can’t look like you’ve been eating off them for 20 years,” he said.
Sell them in bulk online
Linda and Bill Wareham of St. Paul recently came up with a rather tedious but ultimately worthwhile solution: After selling some discs in person at a used-record store, they sold more of their CDs in bulk to the website Decluttr.com. The site, which resells via Amazon, requires you to scan or type in the bar code of each CD but pays about $1 to $2 per disc (and takes DVDs too).
“To be honest, I don’t feel like I was cheated,” Bill Wareham said. “They were out of my house and I was making a little money off them.”
If you have a particularly deep and rarefied collection, it may be worth seeking out a collector online or going to eBay to try to sell them.
Sell them one by one
If you really have time on your hands and like visiting the post office, you could try selling them yourself via Discogs, Musicstack or eBay, which could amount to a few bucks per CD; for the ones that do sell, that is. Of course, once stay-at-home orders lift, a good ol’ garage sale could work — but even your aunt who goes out “saling” every Saturday has probably turned to streaming her Streisand albums.
Goodwill still sells CDs and DVDs and collects them at its drop-off locations. Many libraries also take them and will either stock them for checkout or sell them at sales or their used stores.
Aside from the paper-sleeve inserts, plastic CD cases and the discs themselves aren’t permitted in conventional curbside recycling, only out-of-the-way “technology recycling” sites. The website Greendesk.com offers packing and shipping options, but it’s pricey (about $15 plus shipping for a 25-pound package).
One free recycling option: Use the shiny discs for arts-and-craft projects, such as mobiles or collages.
Hang onto them
You never know, there could be a resurgence in popularity for CDs in the coming decade or two like there was for vinyl. There’s even been a niche market for cassettes among hipster kids in recent years.
Also, given the fight for better royalty payments to artists from Spotify and other streaming services, there could be a time when music is not as widely available or affordable on streaming sites. But for now all signs point otherwise.