Dozens of visitors streamed into and through a showroom at the Napa County Library, collecting armfuls of items as another sale began. But amid the stacks upon tables of books on offer, one longtime standby of the annual bazaar was conspicuous by its inconspicuousness.
While shoppers from primary-school children to grandparents arrived at the Friends of the Napa Library sale to sift through an array of novels, cookbooks, true-crime thrillers and other late-summer reading material, those looking for some music had to find their way to one corner of the room. There, a determined music hunter could find cardboard bins filled half with DVDs and half with compact discs – once-ubiquitous carriers of movies and tunes whose niches are shrinking outside the library walls just as their shelf space is tightening within the building.
Volunteers with the Friends of the Napa Library, which stages the annual sales to raise funds for various library programs, freely admitted this music and movie nook was smaller than in years past – less essential for townspeople increasingly taking their TV series and movies on Netflix, and their music on iTunes and Spotify.
“We used to have two whole racks of CDs and DVDs; now we have one rack for both of them,” said Jeanine Layland, a board member for Friends of the Napa Library, which holds book, movie and music sales about four times a year.
A few yards from the check-out table where Layland rang up purchases, the boxes of CDs bore the cutout images of the Beatles and Pink Floyd and Billie Holliday, and other superstars whose fame was built or amplified by the sale of millions of the silvery 4 ¾-inch platters long before music could be sold and transported with the push of a button.
Upon its introduction in late 1982, the CD – which wowed early adopters with its compact size and noise-free sound quality – steadily pushed vinyl albums and cassette tapes from the music marketplace before reaching a revenue peak of more than $14 billion in 1999, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. In the following two decades, paid downloads and streaming audio have flipped the industry’s business model on its ear, leading to a steady sales erosion for many types of physical media – but especially for the once-dominant optical discs.
So far has the CD fallen in the marketplace that sales in the first half of this year totaled just $247.9 million, the RIAA said in a report published earlier this month. Indeed, newly fashionable vinyl records saw an increase to $224.1 million in sales, putting the throwback format on track to pull in more revenue than CDs for the first time since 1986.
Even taken together, records and CDs have become bit players in the music industry; the recording association noted that downloading and streaming garnered $4.77 billion of the industry’s $5.38 billion in revenue during the first six months of 2019.
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For the book sale’s first day of public sales on Sunday (organizers opened the event Saturday exclusively to Friends members), a cache of old vinyl was on display next to the CDs – the entire classical music collection of a single donor, according to sale organizers. Twenty minutes after the doors opened at 1 p.m., a father of two headed for the pushcart loaded with more than 200 LPs.
“Music for the kids,” said Kyle Mizuno while plucking albums from the cart at $2 each: Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, the Bach Cello Sonatas. “As I kid I was listening to a lot of vinyl hearing a lot of artists you can’t find on CD. And it’s wonderful to be able to expose my kids to this as well.”
A few minutes later, another shopper walked past the vinyl to squeeze his way into the DVD nook.
“They’re already phasing out DVDs at the stores, because everybody streams now,” said Harry Giusti of Napa as he began perusing the movie crates, having already collected a Mexican cookbook and nautical novels from the bookshelves. A Napa library regular from its pre-1970s days at the historic Goodman building on First Street, Giusti described himself as an avid book-sale shopper, not only in his hometown but at much larger venues like the used-book emporiums that raise funds for the San Francisco library system.
What hands-on bargain hunting can deliver that no internet connection can, he said, was the element of surprise, of finding that book – or album or film – that can change one’s outlook. One such visit led Giusti to pick up a DVD of “The Way,” the 2010 movie highlighting the 500-mile Way of Saint James pilgrimage route through Spain – a trek he now hopes to carry out himself.
“It’s about the hunt,” he said of his book-sale habit. “That’s why I’m here – you’ll never know what you’re going to find.”
Finally, Giusti walked toward another set of bookshelves, ceding his place by the DVDs to a younger man who began perusing the same movies-on-disc – while listening to music through earbuds plugged into an iPod.