Bull Moose saw compact disc sales across its 11 stores rise 20 percent in 2021. A CD stand at its store at Mill Creek in South Portland. Credit: Courtesy of Bull Moose

Compact disc sales rose last year after declining for nearly two decades, partly the result of pandemic-related spending and their low cost compared with vinyl records.

Bull Moose saw CD sales across its 11 stores in Maine and New Hampshire rise 20 percent in 2021 compared with the previous year, a much higher rate than the 1 percent sales rise for CDs nationally. Vinyl sales still eclipsed those of CDs, with 109 million units sold nationally compared to 40.6 million CDs, according to Billboard magazine and MRC Data. Streamed music had the highest sales with 1.13 trillion downloads.

The uptick in CD sales has some Maine record stores dusting off boxes in the storeroom and putting them back on the shelves. CD prices, which have plummeted in recent years, are regaining their value, giving store owners a reason to reconsider stocking them.

At Bull Moose, contemporary artists including The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and BTS sold well, indicating teens and people in their 20s are buying CDs, not just nostalgic Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. CDs still are only 13 percent of Bull Moose’s total revenues, but the record store chain expects those to keep growing.

“We saw a shift in who is buying CDs, and artists with younger fans did well,” Chris Brown, chief financial officer of Bull Moose said. The record store chain is the largest in the state and sells the most new and used CDs.

The popularity of CDs peaked in 2000 at almost $20 billion nationwide, but dropped 97 percent to $483 million by 2020, according to Statistica. Chipping away at the CDs’ demise were the advent of MP3 players to download songs, streaming services, consolidation in the supply chain and most recently vehicle manufacturers eliminating CD players.

Brown said vinyl records saw a similar dip in the 1990s before they made a comeback in 2010.

New packaging is partly to credit for the resurgence in popularity of CDs, Brown said. One example is the K-pop group BTS, which makes special packaging and different versions featuring the buyer’s favorite singer on the cover.

“The physical package is an important part of K-pop because it is visual all the way through with the fashion and the dancing,” Brown said.

Even long-established groups are getting into the new versions of CDs. Metallica reissued its Black Album last year, 30 years after its initial release. It includes five vinyl records, 14 CDs and six DVDs for $249. That includes the remastered original album plus unreleased content from shows and demos, a lyric folder, a book with photos, three guitar picks and other previously unreleased items.

“It’s more about this giant experience,” Brown said of the new packages. He said an album or a CD, not a streamed single, is where listeners connect deeply with artists.

“The single might make you aware of an artist, but it’s the album that turns you into a fan,” he said.

K-pop music led new CD sales last year at Bull Moose, but the soul and rhythm and blues category rose 12 percent and rap was up 8 percent. Brown attributes that to anti-bias initiatives started in the music industry. An earnest effort to record more Black artists began in June 2020, after The Weeknd challenged the top music labels and streaming services to donate to Black Lives Matter and other groups because the industry profits off of Black music.

Brown expects the CD sales trend to continue this year. While some independent music stores, including Finestkind Vinyl Haven in Brunswick, will continue to focus on vintage vinyl, others like Dr. Records in Bangor are giving CDs another look.

Owner Don Menninghaus said he plans to sell new CD music as well as the CDs he has had in storage for 10 years because they hadn’t been selling. CD prices are rebounding, but they’re still cheaper than vinyl and give price-conscious consumers an option.

“The higher vinyl prices are driving CD sales,” he said.