The question put to you was “What is the shelf-life for CDs and packaged music?” Because there are so many new ways to get music — downloaded on peer-to-peer networks or through services such as iTunes or streamed online — I wondered how long people would gravitate to CDs or any type of physical package with prerecorded music.
Adding fuel to my fire is a front-page story today in the Washington Post on how digital downloads are making singles more popular than entire CD albums. A graphic that goes with the article shows the trend line, with CD sales dropping and digital downloads rising.
Before I get to your responses, I also asked a couple experts to weigh in on the topic. Paul Resnikoff, founder and editor of Digital Music News, said that signs point to an eventual erosion of the CD format.
“Sales dropped 7 percent in the U.S. last year [for CDs], part of a much larger decline,” Resnikoff, pictured above, wrote via email. “Customers are shifting away from CDs and into digital formats (either paid or free), but the transition has been slow. I liken it to air slowly leaking out of a balloon, and CD sales still account for 94 percent of major [record] label revenue…In five years the landscape will be very different, though.”
Ron Mwangaguhunga, who blogs at The Corsair, was recently named cultural editor of Morph, the Media Center’s group blog on new media issues. He has written extensively on pop culture and the music biz.
“I do see a day in the very near future when digital single sales will be the accepted business practice,” Ron wrote to me via email. “CDs are unwieldy creatures in this era of sleek handhelds. And, more important, [downloads are] cost effective and — added bonus — environmentally sound. Plus, no more worries about scratched CDs…Remember: CDs are a relatively [recent] phenomenon. I still have boxes full of vinyl.”
And then there’s the obvious next step. If record companies are simply uploading an artist’s music to an online store, what’s to keep the artist from doing that on their own — and cut out the middleman?
“The one interesting issue that the digitalization process causes is to the record companies,” Ron says. “If everything can be done digital, then what’s to say that a savvy band can’t get on MySpace and catch on like wildfire without a label? Prince was a pioneer of this, but someone may take it to the next level, like Dane Cook did with comedy. Anyway, I wouldn’t make any long term investments in the record industry.”
Some of you echoed Ron’s words about vinyl and other old-school formats still being vibrant. A blogger named GED said vinyl isn’t dead, and that the Net has actually brought a renaissance for records, which are being pressed in Eastern Europe.
“The move to digital loses a collector element which takes the big volume buyer out of the market, and having wall-to-wall music lessens our appreciation of it,” GED wrote. “The Internet gives specialists advantages over the likes of Tower Records as they can exploit a global niche. Downloads won’t kill Tower but poor management that fails to adapt and mine these niches for business will.”
One reader, Jo Burford says she will miss the casual browsing for CDs in a physical store, along with the artwork and jewel cases. One thing she won’t miss is the annoying security packaging on compact discs that take forever to open. It’s ironic that record companies are now so focused on the equivalent digital protections that will be just as annoying for someone who might want to listen to downloads on an MP3 player and their stereo.
Ken Leebow, an expert author and blogger, said we’ve already lost much of the artwork when the old LP went out of style. Leebow notes that formats become obsolete quickly, and wonders when a new video recording device such as TiVo can offer limitless storage for video.
Some of you waxed philosophic on tangential topics. Constance believes that iPod ads are causing youngsters to plug in and turn into robots, not noticing what’s going on around them. Tim chimes in that he agrees with GED’s telling line: “having wall-to-wall music lessens our appreciation of it.” Bruce Potter even misread the question as being how long CDs would last before disintegrating, a subject of some debate online.
We all love our music, in whatever format we own them. But I believe the siren song to listen to much more music for a fraction of the $18.95 suggested retail price of CDs will lead us toward digital nirvana and the global jukebox where we can pay a flat fee or price per download. But that’s just me.
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