Friday, 11 November 2011

The Death of the CD?

Apparently by the end of 2012 (or earlier) the major record labels are planning on replacing CD releases with just download/streaming offerings, except for certain special editions. 

It is clear why they would want to do this as it massively reduces costs and therefore increases the margins that they can make on any one song.  They don't even have to have an artist churn out an album, just record a song and start marketing it if they like.  As soon as it's recorded and mastered then it can be ready to go - just a few clicks, contracts with suppliers etc and you're making money.  Selling CDs however requires stock, shipping and storage, all of which cost a lot of money - irrespective of whether or not they sell.

That said the thought of this makes me very depressed.  I still buy CDs, in fact I'd say I'll have spent hundreds of pounds on CDs this year.  It's not that I'd resent CDs being replaced, the move from Vinyl to Tape to CD has generally been progressive, ease of storage, longevity and improved quality are potentially some of the benefits of these moves.  Downloads however never seem to be the same quality as CDs.  Yes as soon as I buy a CD I rip it so I can have it on my iPod - so I can listen to it on the go, however when I'm at home I always have a CD on as the quality is much better than playing anything that's come from my laptop, or my parents PC when I lived at home.  

If the physical format of purchasing music was removed then the industry would lose so much money from me.  I find it hard to go into a shop that sells CDs and walk out without purchasing one.  Yes I'd get the albums I wanted as soon as they came out, (grudgingly) downloading them if that's the only option (yes Smashing Pumpkins I am currently looking at you - though hopefully you'll redeem yourself in Birmingham next week - although since their's are free I should let them off), but that's not much different from me now where I'd pre-order them if I wanted.   Where they make money from me is two fold:

  • I walk into a store, browse through all of the albums in my genres, study the artwork, the track lists and think about what I know about the bands, and then I take great pleasure in making my purchases - especially if I think I've found something fairly rare or a bargain (i.e. when I bought Temple of the Dog for £10 from a back street shop in Bristol).  I have been known to spend hours in them.
  • Birthdays and Christmas.  My mother asks me what I want, I give her a list of CDs.  Someone I know's birthday, or I'm buying a Christmas present, my first instinct is to think of their musical tastes and if there's anything there I can purchase for them.  Yes people buy vouchers, I've had them bought for me and they are a great gesture, but it's not the same as someone choosing something for you, when time and thought has gone into it.  I have no idea which CDs my mother will buy for me this year as my list has over 500 that I'm currently thinking of purchasing/will purchase if I see them for the right price.  Giving downloading tokens is much less personal.  
Can you sign a download?
Maybe I am just being sentimental.  Well I am almost certainly being sentimental, I don't do brilliantly with change.  But why shouldn't I be?  I like CDs, I like looking round my room and seeing the fact that I have hundreds!  With downloads you are totally reliant on a few bits of software and hardware, I'm sure you could have a problem, that could cause you to lose everything (my digital music is all on an external hard drive, so if my laptop dies I don't have to rip it again - however if that dies I've got hours of work ahead of me). However, with a CD, if you have computer problems, well my CD player and CDs still work - you just have more options.  I just always prefer a physical item rather than something electronic, it makes it feel more real and therefore in my head it feels more valuable.  Currently one of my favourite possessions is my Steven Wilson "Grace For Drowning" special edition CD, because the man himself signed it, I'd like to see him do that if I'd have downloaded it!

Also, the day bands stop releasing albums will be a sad day for music.  If every song has to be a hit (if record companies are releasing them individually only then they'll be trying to make sure each one is) then they will stop experimenting so much, you'll only see their most popular sides and you wont get a feel for what the artist is really about.  I'd say that on most albums my favourite songs are not the singles that get released, the songs that get promoted, but one of the other songs that they have written which may be less commercial but still has every reason why they are good.  You will either have this, or the complete opposite where bands take a scatter gun approach, record enough songs and hope that enough of them are hits, decreasing the overall standard of their product as they take less time to really work on their art. 

I know the day will come when I wont be able to buy any more CDs, however I'll be one of those customers still buying them until the very last day.

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