All Things Considered

Since I’ve been working on my CD collection, I’ve been thinking about CDs a lot lately. There’s a lot of talk on the death of the CD format, with it being replaced by digital downloads. On top of that, there’s talk about the music industry not making any money anymore. On top of that, there’s the discussion of digital piracy and how to get people to pay for music again.

All these issues are intertwined.  The industry is losing money in some areas, but not in all.  Part of it is because of the third point, piracy, but another good part of it is that there are now multiple, durable playback mediums.  CDs are very durable, and where they may fail, digital copies and CDRs fill in the gaps.  So the industry doesn’t have the opportunities to resell an entire collection to a consumer in a new format, and the instances where the industry has to sell replacements has decreased, too.  You can see the industry trying to adapt by selling special editions and remastered versions.  It’s not working out all that well.

Some say the CD is dead for the same reason “books are dead” – because the physical media takes up space.  I recently read about a company whose purpose is to license out-of-print classical music and create CDs on-demand.  It made me wonder if the entire music business could be like this.  (I’ve also wondered if automobile sales could be like this, too.)

My issue with that concept is that CDRs do have a limited shelf life.  Supposedly, aluminum CDs also have a shelf life, but that is yet widely proven.  Also, for me, buying a CDR is no different than downloading the music and making the CDR myself.  So, unless someone is willing to archive the glass masters and one-off actual CDs, I’ll stick with my originals.

So, let’s think of the future where manufacturing CDs is obsolete and digital or CDR is pretty commonplace.  In that time, real CDs have value – they are elevated to collectables.  So, why can’t the industry make that happen a little sooner?  Just manufacture less CDs and let the market decide who wants to pay to own a physical copy of the music instead of owning a license to a digital copy.  The CD becomes the collectable.  The industry saves money from having a lower on-hand inventory.  CDs gain a marketing edge as “limited quantity”.

In some of my daydreams where I am a famous musician or maybe the owner of a record label company, I would brainstorm how to make my albums valuable and how to get people to buy instead of steal.  A long time ago, I thought including a video with the album would be a nice value-add.  Back then, digitally copying a DVD was prohibitive in storage and bandwidth.  Not so much anymore.  And now today, lots of special edition albums include a behind-the-scenes DVD.  So then what?  I also thought about books.  Books are more difficult to reproduce digitally and don’t hold the same allure when seen on a screen.  A recent album I purchased was being sold direct by the record label as a bundle with a DVD, a shirt and a poster.  It was 3x what I paid for it, but I think that’s a nice option.  Whatever the solution is, it has to be physical, because digital has no value.

And maybe in the future, the only physical thing needed to make the album special will be the CD itself.

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