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The Death of the CD?

Posted by Mike on 6/14/2009 to Random Thoughts

Last night, I watched a story on story on the late evening news about the closure of Virgin Records’ last two stores, and the inevitable, impending death of the CD.  Huh?

One person who was interviewed compared the CD of today to the 8-Track tape for his generation.  He asserted it is outdated and is becoming less necessary.  In my mind, that’s a stretch.   The 8-track tape was a brief blip in the history of time, a tangent from cassette tapes, in between phonograph records and CD’s.

Certainly, it’s been a trend for the music only stores across the country to shutter up.  But I always considered that to be a fallout from places like Walmart and Best Buy tightening the competition with lower prices and a wider selection of products.   I gave less credit to the online music services siphoning sales from the brick and mortar establishments.  Of course, music downloads continue to grow in popularity, and I hear that Apples I-Tunes store now has a 20% market share of all music sold.  That’s a fat number.  But the fatter number is still hard CD’s.

I have never Napstered.  My kids did, somewhat to my disapproval.  But as a person who creates things, I’ve always been respecful of copyrights.  I don’t believe in downloading something of value and not paying for it.  And the second reason for my slowness to accept music downloading as THE way is that I like to have the physical item in hand.  I want the CD to play in my car, on my stereo at home, and to have as a permanent source of pleasure.   Why download songs and be faced with the loss if  the  computer hard drive ever crashes and dies?

A couple of years ago, I bought an IPOD Touch when it was on sale.  I spent many long hours copying the favorite part of my large CD collection onto the computer and then transferring the music onto the IPOD.  And then I started the time consuming task of digitizing my old record albums over to my computer in order to get them on my IPOD, too.  That was a lot of work, and I really didn’t make much of a dent in the project when I decided to buy a download selected songs from some of those albums.  Sure, I had to pay again  for music I already owned, but it saved me some time.  And I don’t have a lot of that to spend on tedious chores.

Despite my entry into music downloads, I did not see the end of the CD coming.  I guess it is inevitable at some point, but I suspect that milestone is a longer way off than some news stories would want you to believe.   And even though I bought my first (and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th) e-book in the past week, but I don’t see the death of the printed page on the near horizon either.  For books, anyway, that’s farther into this century than the life of printed newspapers. 

Newspapers are bound to fade more quickly than CD’s.  There are two reasons for that.  First, news is ever changing, and online reporting is so much more timely.  CD’s on the other hand present music that the artists hope will be long-lasting.   And for the listener, if you like the music, you want (need) for it to stay the same for the hundreds of times you might play it over and over.  And the CD is a vehicle of permanence.  

It’s also costly to assemble, print and distribute hard copy newspapers.  They need big machines in large buildings with lots of people.   And if they are delivered wet to the subscriber, they need to be delivered again.   CD’s can be produced much more economically, and are also the sort of item that theoretically could be produced on demand in any store.   And although they might eventually be replaced by the expanded capacity of DVD’s, I think the basic concept of a digital disk will continue to be a viable storage and delivery vehicle for music for many years to come.

Mike Lee