Monday, October 30, 2006

The Compact Disc Is Dead

Digital Music News recently (October/2006) reported that EMI Music chairman and chief executive Alain Levy called the CD "dead.” He said: "The CD as it is now is dead, but a new version with added value will live on… There will always be a need for the physical product. You're not going to give your mother-in-law an iTunes download for Christmas…”

To my mind, it depends how you define 'physical product', 'added value'; and how you contextualize the download. If by 'added value' he means more digital media on the disc itself, then in my opinion neither Mr. Levy nor his team has quite thought the problem completely through. There is no 'added value' in content that one will eventually be able to download from the web (for free). Therefore, moving forward, 'added value' must indicate something other than elements found on the CD. We may as well dispense with the CD altogether, and invest our time defining an entirely different physical medium. Instead, let's think of the audio itself (and any other added content traditionally distributed on the disc) as the added value element, which we only make available with the purchase of Artist Branded Merchandise (created in or from a non-digital medium).

For instance: You might give your mother-in-law a pair of mittens, and they might come with a coupon redeemable for an Elvis Presley Christmas Album download. Even value-added CDs are just so much packaging, and you can't beat the value of a nice warm pair of mittens, especially if Elvis's handsome mug is embroidered on them.

What is unfortunate for the music Industry, is that digital audio technology is a catalog killer. Barring a hardware malfunction, consumers now only have to buy music once in a lifetime, and often they don’t pay for it all. Whereas, twenty years ago I may have duplicated several purchases in different formats in order to have my favorite music available on vinyl, 8-track and cassette –and I actually bought one artist's Double LP vinyl set twice because I wore out the records.

There is still a magnitude of worldwide customers converting to digital audio, notably in the Southern Hemisphere where analog formats are still prevalent. However, in North America and Europe, the days of repeat purchases (in order to accommodate different play back devices or even simple wear-and-tear) are very much over. Not to mention the fact that neither my kids nor yours will ever have to buy much in the way of old catalog recordings because they stand to inherit their parent’s hard drives.

I can already imagine entertainment companies sending lobbyists to Washington to mandate the destruction of media storage devices upon an individual's death under the auspices of simultaneously fighting piracy and protecting privacy.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the four-part Fall 2006 AUDIO AS ADDED VALUE series exploring exploring new paradigms for Music Distribution:

1. The Compact Disc Is Dead
2. Saving The Music Industry One Brand at a Time
3. Self-Referential Jingles are not Content
4. Synergy = Energy

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