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Sony sold the first player in Japan on Oct. 1, with the CBS label supplying Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” as its first album.

The CD was a massive hit. Sony sold more players, especially once its Discman series was introduced in 1984, but Philips benefited from CD sales, too, thanks to its ownership of Polygram, now part of Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group.

The CD player helped Philips maintain its position as Europe’s largest maker of consumer electronics until it was eclipsed by Nokia Corp. in the late 1990s. Licensing royalties sustained the company through bad times.

“The CD was in itself an easy product to market,” says Philips‘ current marketing chief for consumer electronics, Lucas Covers. It wasn’t just the sound quality — discs looked like jewelry in comparison to LPs.

By 1986, CD players were outselling record players, and by 1988, CDs outsold records.

“It was a massive turnaround for the whole market,” Mr. Covers says.

Now the CD may be seeing the end of its days.

CD sales have fallen sharply, to 553 million sold in the United States last year, a 22 percent drop from its 2001 peak of 712 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Napster and later Kazaa and BitTorrent enabled music fans to share songs easily over the Internet, often illegally. More recently, Apple Inc. and other companies began selling legal music downloads, turning the MP3 and other digital audio formats into the medium of choice for many owners of Apple’s IPods and other digital players.

“The MP3 and all the little things that the boys and girls have in their pockets … can replace it, absolutely,” says Mr. Kramer, the retired engineer.

CDs won’t disappear overnight, but their years may be numbered.

Record labels seeking to revive the format have experimented with hybrid CD-DVD combos and packages of traditional CDs with separate DVDs that carry video and multimedia offerings playable on computers. The efforts have been mixed at best, with some attempts, such as the DualDisc that premiered in 2004, not finding lasting success in the marketplace.

Mr. Kramer says it has been satisfying to witness the CD’s long run at the top and know he had a small hand in its creation.

Associated Press business writer Alex Veiga contributed to this report from Los Angeles.