Physical Formats Death Watch

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard and/or read about the imminent demise of the CD these past years. Just recently, once again, a news item (that has never really been substantiated) made the rounds again, stating that EMI, Universal and Sony had plans up their sleeves in regard to giving the CD the chop in 2012.

Do I care?
Well, uhm, yes and no.Besides the fact that I don’t think any label (greedy bastards), will annul any one format that is still making it more than 10 cents of income, I do think that even if labels were to start dropping physical formats altogether in favor of digital download solutions, those formats would survive for quite some time.

Vinyl is perhaps the best example. It has been pronounced D.O.A., buried, gone and forgotten countless times, but despite those more or less intelligent news reports, new generations have delved into it time and again, not the least because it is still considered the format of choice for many people who are simply sick and tired of digital sloppiness, the tendency of many labels to refute their former statements promising better sound by consistently releasing CDs with inferior, fuzzed-with and sub-standard sonic qualities.

Too loud, too bright, too … crappy.

Yes, I’m old-fashioned. I am one of the comparatively few people who like to hold something in their hands, have liner notes to read and simply be able to gloat over the amassed collection of LPs, CDs and whatnot.

On the other hand, I took the leap years ago and transferred most of my collection to digital formats (amongst others, and most prominently, FLAC), realizing after a while that those have both advantages and disadvantages.

For freaks like me, thousands of CDs means too many external hard drives to take care of. I have a whole cupboard full. On top of that, although there are many promising solutions out there, the market is not ripe with solutions for obsessive collectors. Once you reach the 10 terabyte mark, you start wondering about getting the music into your stereo without having to have a) a working PC network set up and b) without having to put up with elaborate cooling solutions for ten to twenty hard drives configured to form a somewhat secure RAID setup.

Once you have, like me, spent a few years ripping, converting, sorting, tagging and storing a (high) five-digit number of albums, you don’t need long to discover the pitfalls of this still somewhat new realm of digital mayhem.

Hi-res, low-res, different formats, different bit rates, different tagging schemes, machines that can read this but can’t read that, displays that like this cover format but not the other, proprietary solutions … once you delve into it all, you’ll see that if you care about the music, solutions ain’t easy to find … at all.

Right now, I think I have the best of both worlds and, to be quite honest, the digital side of things is winning. Yes, I regularly browse and listen to my pretty extensive CD collection, and I consult the vinyl leftovers here and there, but I find myself being the lazy ass and hitting my digital files more often than the rest. Depressingly enough, the latter – at the moment – don’t get closer than 20 meters to audiophile equipment and I have yet to find a solution that works for me, having it all available via my stereo in the living room without having to jump through seventeen hoops.

In addition, although I have scanned and retouched a ton of booklets, liner notes, covers and assorted materials, I find myself ignoring them time and again when playing the music via my PC. Without fail, I spend time with booklets and notes while listening to CDs, when hitting my digital files I seem to be too lazy.

Mostly for nostalgic reasons, I would lament the demise of the CD format, no matter how bad some CD (re)issues were, but in the long run I don’t really care. I have been prepared for the more or less flashy funeral proceedings for quite some time now.

I have a different take on things: As long as labels and assorted other characters keep the music alive that has shaped the past one-and-a-half centuries, I’ll be one happy camper.

If it is only worthwhile reissuing some rare West Coast session digitally, fine with me. If you think you can make some money off either a CD or LP reissue, go ahead.

What I am interested in, and what I hope will not bow to digital elitism or commercialism, is the attempt to both release/reissue and keep alive the music that has made my musical universe what it is.

Somehow I think (assume, actually, having watched developments for more than 30 years now) that it might be easier to (re-)publish some elusive session or release in digital format without having to majorly invest into both production and release channels. Rip, polish, publish. That kind of thing.

If the price is right, I’m game … for anything anyone throws my way, as long as it is a quality release.

Music was first, and formats came second.
If we return to that state without bothering with formats, that’s fine with me.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. We (here at Amoeba) have seen this latest article floating about, and this is our take on it:

    “- it is a u.k. based on-line “publication” with little credibility and no discernible readership; perhaps there’s someone in uk label upper management that feels this is a good move for them. doesn’t translate at all to u.s. sales/retail/physical outlets
    – they quote no actual individuals, nor give a real timeline
    – they make no mention of the fact that cd sales still account for 60-66% of the record industry’s revenues and how they’ll replace that in a year
    – we asked jackie at emi and she said it’s a laugh. emi only generates 52% of their income from cd sales, and though it’s not jackie’s decision (she’s just a sales rep that’s been around many years), she pointed out that it’s not feasible for labels to abandon cd’s right now

    We don’t doubt that this may some day come to pass, and maybe even in the next few years, based on how store sales are being impacted by the economic bullshit. but cd sales ytd are actually up over last year (thanks in large part to adele, whose cd sales are breaking records, and a couple of other biggies like lil wayne), even though revenues may be down by year’s end, it won’t be a freefall over last year.”

    Amoeba’s two cents, for what it’s worth. Peace.


  2. Yeah, it seems the original article (again) was written by someone who wasn’t prepared for the repercussions around the Net. To me it seemed like one just “thrown out there” by someone who didn’t think anyone would actually read it. I mean, those kinds of “news” items have been around the Internet for years.

    Store sales around Karlsruhe, just around the corner from here, are abysmal (aside from one single specialty shop with rather deep storage that caters mostly to the wealthy … hardly anything cheap to be had there).

    Obviously, sales have moved online. Because not much is stocked around here anymore, I usually buy everything online … aside from the odd spontaneous purchase of drastically reduced single items around larger chain stores in the area.

    On top of that, I find that my own purchasing habits have reached a saturation point of sorts. I’m not the type to buy the fifth “Wish You were Here” reissue, no matter how good it supposedly sounds. Other things I might be interested in are just not being released (from the vaults) and I am actually hoping that the move to digital formats might alleviate that problem somewhat.

    Finally, were the labels to stop selling CDs altogether, I’d have more than enough of them to tie me over until I drop dead … twice. šŸ™‚


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