Friday, October 28, 2011

No more CDs?

There's a rumour floating around in the back, back, back channels of the music industry (nothing official) that 2012 will mark the end of music being sold on CD, with the exception of special releases. That would mean that almost all music sold would only be available through download or streaming via the internet. I have some issues with this, assuming it is true.

For starters, access to music in digital form is not ubiquitous. In Canada, I do not have access to the same degree of selection of music in electronic form as I do in physical form. We're close, but we're not there yet. Second, all of my legal purchasing avenues for music in electronic form are restrictive in many ways. I won't list them all, but let's identify the three most important ones.

1. DRM - Digital Rights Management or 'digital locks' as they are also known, restrict what you can do with the music you buy. The music industry seems to be getting the message that consumers don't want DRM and in some cases it is disappearing. But at least with a CD, if there is no DRM, you are not only free to do with the content as you please (within your legal rights), but you never have to worry that DRM would suddenly appear where it never existed before. With music only available in electronic form, nothing stops the labels (or the distributor) from applying DRM whenever they want to, or changing the DRM scheme to something else. In other words, the rules can change unexpectedly, potentially rendering your existing collection unusable in some way. Another thing many people aren't considering is imports. There are still issues with certain music releases only being available in certain countries. Unlike with import CDs, you can't pay a bit more to import downloads.  If music is only licensed to a specific other country, forget it - you can't have it. At least not legally.

2. Quality - I'm not satisfied with an electronic collection at poor mp3 quality. I own physical CDs for a reason. I can choose to transfer my CD music to FLAC (lossless compressed mode) or a high bit rate mp3 format (320kbps) and the songs are practically indistinguishable from the master. Until I see the option of downloading ALL music in the highest quality format possible, from ALL sources that sell the music, I'm not buying into this new business model.

3. Supporting software - iTunes. Do I really have to say any more? I hate iTunes - so much that I don't use it to manage my music, nor do I buy music through iTunes. It's very difficult to manage my music on my terms, it forces me to play along with DRM and it restricts how I can move and copy my music around between all of my devices. So, buying my music from Apple is not an option for me. The problem is this - in Canada, there isn't much else. I know there are some other electronic music stores, but for the moment their catalogue is laughable. I want access to the same music I can get through Amazon in CD format. Period. Once that becomes a reality, maybe we can do away with the CD.

So let's recap. Once electronic download options are as ubiquitous as the physical and online box stores that sell CDs, and once the industry does away with DRM and offers the highest quality options for its entire catalogue....... then I'm ready to abandon the CD. Until then.......

[Bonus discussion] After considerable reflection, I realized other issues that need to be discussed.

1. If you don't have a credit card, no music for you. What about children? How will they get to buy their music? Gift cards?

2. No internet? No music for you either.

3. If bands want more control over their revenue, they may decide to release their own physical CDs (or thumb drives with electronic versions of songs). This could squeeze out record labels entirely in the long term. Imagine if you could go to a Travis concert and get their latest CD for $5. Or for free!

4. If music is only going to be available electronically, does that mean we can expect to see price cuts? No CD means no CD manufacturing plants, no material costs, no physical distributor and no overhead costs for storage and box stores. We better see a corresponding decrease in price.


Anonymous said...

Let's just hope that is a stupid rumor. That's doesn't make any sense what so ever. I was called into a study group with our friends at Microsoft for a test on Zune vs iTunes. I owned an Ipod at the time so I was familiar with iTunes. Hands down the Zune software was so much easier to navigate and manipulate. Shortly there after I lost my iPod while traveling and Mitch replaced it at Christmas with a Zune.
And they lived happily ever after.

Anonymous said...

R.I.P Zune.

Glad to hear that somebody bought one though.