Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Death Of CD's? Say it ain't so...

There's a pretty cool debate happenin' over at NPR's "All Songs Considered" about the death of cd's. I was going to post a link but something's buggered with bloggers 'dashboard', so I'm going to copy and paste it verbatim. The comments by the music fans are the real fascinating read, some very different opinions. Some have gone totally the way of MP3's, others still prefer that shiny plastic disc with the miniscule artwork and liner notes, many still drool over their double gatefold vinyl LP's.

Myself? Well, I buy very few actual cd's anymore. That pleasure is reserved for the REALLY special releases and re-packaged re-issues (Nick Lowe's Jesus Of Cool, anyone?). I'm still an album guy too, so when I download I will usually download whole releases, then burn to to a cd (as back-up). I even go so far as to print out the cover on glossy photo paper and stick 'em in a slim jewel case!

Anyway, here's the article and the reader resposnses.


R.I.P. The Compact Disc, 1982-2008?
by Robin Hilton

I recently came to work with two large tote bags filled with compact discs and dumped them out on a table in the middle of the office. To me, they were garbage. But for the vultures that are my fellow NPR Music producers, it was like finding a mountain of free money. They shuffled through the pile, grabbing everything that caught their eye. At one point, Stephen Thompson held up my discarded copy of Radiohead's OK Computer and incredulously asked, "Why would you get rid of this?"

For about a year now, I've been slowly purging my once-proud CD collection. Twenty-five years' worth of music, from the first disc I ever bought (Pink Floyd's The Wall) in 1984, to more recent releases.

Of course, I'm not really getting rid of them. I'm ripping everything to a massive hard drive hooked up to what has become my stereo: my computer.

This is partly because I don't like having a house overrun with thousands of CDs. Invisible sound files on a hard drive are simply more convenient. You can also do a lot more with digital files and iTunes, like delivering an endless stream of music through the house in any conceivable configuration, by artist, genre, or favorite playlists. Changing out a CD in a player feels as clunky and outdated as flipping a record on a turntable.

But I'm also purging my CDs because I believe they're a dying format. There's never been a more obvious trend. CD sales continue to plummet at a breathless -- and, if you're one of the big labels, alarming -- rate. Meanwhile, digital download sales continue to climb.

None of this is as sexy as having a tangible package of music, with artwork and liner notes. And downloading files isn't nearly as cozy as flipping through the local bands section of a record store. But the truth is, I never listen to actual CDs more than once or twice. After that, they're ripped to my computer -- I put the discs away and never look at them again.

Lately, I've felt a sense of urgency to get rid of the rest of my old CDs before they become as obsolete as 8-track tapes and cassettes.

So, what does your CD collection look like? Is it getting smaller? Do you even buy actual CDs now, or do you just download everything?

Tags: cds | compact discs are dead | downloads

11:38 AM ET | 04-14-2008 | permalink

I did the download thing for a while, but decided that nothing beats having those lovely liner notes, in that clear plastic case, and that CD that you can pop into your hi-fi - with no loss in sound quality, and no annoying DRM to hack around. So I'm back to the ol' physical copies, either from a record store or an online outlet.

Yes - it's even worth the shrink wrap, IMHO.

Sent by Tim | 2:25 PM ET | 04-14-2008

I still buy CDs because I'm old-fashioned and want a tangible product for my money.

However, I too keep my CDs stored away and only listen to the ripped files on my computer or my iPod.

I tell myself I'm keeping them because the songs on my computer are all mp3s at low bitrates, but this may just be an excuse. Maybe whenever I get a computer with a big enough hard drive I'll re-rip my CDs to a lossless format and then get rid of them.

For now, though, I have a hard time letting go.

Sent by Kyle | 2:33 PM ET | 04-14-2008
My house sound system is wired to my computer and iPods go everywhere. I mainly purchase downloadable copies. I only by CDs if it is an album that can't be downloaded, but it is quickly ripped and discarded.

I do have about 600 vinyl records left.

Sent by Wayne | 2:37 PM ET | 04-14-2008
My computer will never replace my stereo. Hence the very act of maintaining a digital library kind of makes my head hurt. Why do all that crap when I can just throw the cd in the player (or record on the turntable) and start the act of simplying enjoying music?

So yeah, I still buy cd's (and records). Lots of them. One day they may not make them anymore but that won't make them any less valuable to me.

Sent by xtianDC | 2:39 PM ET | 04-14-2008
I hear what you are saying, Robin, but I take the opposite view. Despite having a large collection that takes up space, I like having cds. Similarly, I like having books on my shelf. Both books and cds are nice to look at for me, and each item has memories. To be sure, I rip the albums on my ipod, but just because I like having my collection when I'm out an about. Then again, I also make time to listen to an album every night before I go to bed. It is a great way for me to relax and decompress from a long day. I just sit on my sofa with a cup of coffee and magazine or a book while the music plays for about an hour.

That's great, Pablo. Bob was just asking me whether I ever just sat and listened to an album all the way through and did nothing else. I still do it, but not very often.

Sent by Pablo | 2:51 PM ET | 04-14-2008
I'm doing about half CDs, half downloading. It comes down to which is cheaper: the used CD or the album download price. Because format death aside, I'm still a sucker for the album, and I don't usually need the instant gratification.

However, downloading won a considerable victory this weekend when--after my wife and I bought tickets to see REM, Modest Mouse, and The National--I turned right around and bought the new REM for us to listen to while we ran errands the rest of the day. I couldn't have done that with a CD.

Sent by Mike | 3:16 PM ET | 04-14-2008
Yes, low bitrates are annoying, packing is fun, but ya'll are missing two key reason to keep buying CDs.

First, hard drives inevitably break. Maybe not today or next month, but they will fail. CDs have finite life spans too, but they're apt to last many decades, whereas hard drives count their lives in years. You scratch up a CD, you lose one album. But when that HD goes, your entire collection goes with it. I've had it happen to several friends and shudder at the thought.

Second, Digital Rights Management means you don't really own most of those tracks you buy online through iTunes. They're just kind of letting you borrow them for a fee. Better not lose that laptop or ipod. Don't load that music library on to too many computers. After a few times, DRM will stop letting you do that, assuming you are a criminal. And want to upgrade to a higher bitrate when better technology comes along? Woa there, cowboy, I'm afraid you'll have to buy every single song all over again.

All that considered, I'll stick to paying a couple bucks extra for a full-quality, tangible, lasting CD that's mine for sure. I do some downloading, but prefer the ole real world medium, especially for albums I love.

Even if I do end up listening to rips of CDs on my computer most of the time, it's still worth the shelf space.

Sent by Kevin | 3:16 PM ET | 04-14-2008
I think Pablo makes a great point in comparing CD's to books, but like others have been saying, it's really all about vinyl records. Sure I have loads of music on my computer and iPod (as Pablo said, for convenience), but my "collection" is split between CD's and vinyl (mostly because promoters only send CD's nowadays), and I'll proudly display them on my shelf as long as I still enjoy listening to music.

To me, it's owning the actual "thing" that someone put countless hours of hard work into, and not just having a few sound files on my computer. That's what makes vinyl so nice, it's like having a book. The sound exists on the record, like words in a book; the grooves in the album are the real sound waves, just like the fading ink in my dad's copy of Time And Again (on loan to me for 20 years now) is real ink.

Call it "emotional" or "romantic" but isn't that what real music collectors seek? Isn't that the whole point of still going to record stores, sifting through boxes of unorganized singles?

I do 90% of my listening from my iPod and computer, but when it comes to "owning" music, I have to have it on my shelf, where I can look at it and say "yes, I own that music."

Sent by John Michael Cassetta | 3:39 PM ET | 04-14-2008
Just when "All Songs Considered" has you in a place of contentment and relaxation with posts about comfort food and silly videos about the song writing process, what do they do? Go for the kill.

I will most likely be moving this Fall and my CD collection will not be able to come with me. I know I will have to either store the CDs or sell them, but I really didn't need to think about that right now. So thanks.

Every time I try to prune my CD collection, I fail miserably. I don't know how I came to have a Spin Doctors' live album in my collection. I don't want it. It certainly has overstayed its welcome. I don't think I have ever listened to it, and yet there it sits in my "secondary CD rack" hidden away in a corner of my bedroom away from those who would use my CD collection to cast dispersion on my street cred. (Oh crap! Am I going to need a separate hard drive for my secondary "nobody can ever know about this" music?)

I would have to agree that i think that CDs are on their way out and will end up in the same category as other dead formats like 8 tracks and tapes. They will always have their fans, but their influence is waning.

If you like album art and liner notes, there is no better format then vinyl if you can find it, not to mention the unique sound of vinyl. Although a high res monitor and iTunes is a new way to look at album art I guess. And if you don't want something that will take up a lot of room, well you can't get much more compact then downloads.

I find that I am downloading a lot more now and if I want something concrete in my hands, I buy vinyl if available.

As for ripping albums before selling them back, I am still torn. In one sense it seems like selling someone your car, but keeping a spare set of keys in case you ever need to use it again. In another sense, I'm poor. Buying all that music again if it is available at all doesn't make much sense either.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I work at pulling this knife out of my back. I still have months to go before I have to give up the illusion that I can keep my CDs as they are.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me the CD is already dead. The way we buy and use music is changing everyday.
Back in the vinyl days, if you told me I could have a device that would hold thousands of albums and would fit in my pocket (and without the pops, crackles and annoying scratches,) would sound as good as my ears could discern, and the music existed as a numeric code whose continued playback would not erode, what would I say?

Bring on the future, baby!

Hal Johnson said...

CD's dead? Sheesh, I'm still getting over the near-death of vinyl.

I've put most all of my CD's on my computer, but I just can't see getting rid of them.

Franko6677 said...

I rip all my CDs so I can put them on my iPod, but don't get rid of them. Nothing beats having something physical, IMO. Although my collection is starting to get unruly and I've learned that I prefer the sound of vinyl, so I have been cutting back unless there's something on CD that I really, really want. If it's a casual interest for something current, digital will do.

As far as old stuff, most labels don't know how to remaster properly so I try to find a mint or near mint copy on vinyl. At least then I know it will sound how I want it to sound and how it was intended to sound.