You can download a huge music library without ever leaving home, but reports of the compact disc’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, writes BRIAN BOYD . Read this article from the Irish Times.
IT WAS INEVITABLE. The report went like this. By the end of next year the major record labels are planning to have abandoned the CD and replaced it with downloads and streams through iTunes and similar music services. That’s because the CD is an anachronism from a pre-online era, according to the online music magazine Side-Line. CDs won’t disappear completely, the report continued, but the format will occupy as small a niche as vinyl does now. Its end not only makes economic sense, as downloads are cheaper than a physical product to provide, but is also in tune with how we consume music in these days of the smartphone and the tablet.
The story was widely blogged and tweeted, and almost everyone accepted that technological progress had lapped the physical CD and that we were going to live our cultural life happily ever after in the cloud.
There’s just one problem with the Side-Line story: it’s wrong. At first it looked solid: more and more people are opting for downloads, and CDs have the drawback, when they don’t sell as well as expected, of leaving retailers and record labels with return and storage costs. Downloads, on the other hand, incur no packaging, transport or storage costs and minimal distribution costs.
Music stores have been giving CDs less and less floor space in recent years, as video games are now the big sellers on the high street. More people are getting their music from iTunes and other digital services, and a whole generation of music consumers each own hundreds of albums but have never touched a CD.
After Side-Line published its story, people started to wonder about magazines, books and films. Surely, the argument ran, if it’s cheaper, easier and more convenient to acquire music, books and films online, we’re looking at the end not only of the CD but also of physical copies of books and films as well.
BUT WHAT IF THE END is not nigh for the CD? And what if that means our cultural future will not be entirely digital? Side-Line contacted three major labels – Universal, EMI and Sony – about its story, but all declined to comment. That probably fuelled a grassy-knoll theory that the majors had privately decided to kill off the CD next year but didn’t want the news to be reported too soon.
This week, at least, it was easy to find music-industry people who will talk about the future of the compact disc. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry represents the interests of the recording industry worldwide, and CD sales are its lifeblood. “This story was first written back in October, and as far as I can see it hasn’t gained any credibility at all,” says Adrian Strain, the federation’s director of communications. “CDs still account for more than 60 per cent of industry revenues globally – more than 70 per cent in some markets, such as Germany – and there is still healthy consumer demand for the physical product. This is despite the rapid growth we have seen in the industry’s digital revenues.” Check the Nielsen Report for 2011 here.
Gennaro Castlado, a spokesman for HMV, says, “I don’t think we should write off the CD just yet, as there are still a huge number of people who like the idea of owning and collecting music in physical formats, especially when they can make their own digital copies to get the best of both worlds. There will be a viable market for CDs for quite a while to come.”
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