Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Future Of The CD?

Interesting post here from Mark Cuban's blog, "blog maverick," discussing the future of the CD as the unit of music commerce and the ways in which it is destined to be killed. While his grasp of basketball talent is not always sure, his grasp of the digital world does seem to be on mostly solid footing.

The no-brainer part of his entry is that the way we listen to music is changing -- quickly and forever.

" occured to me, that I haven’t used my CD Player, portable or at home, in a long, long time. That I rarely, if ever see anyone walking around with a portable CD player anymore. They have all been replaced by MP3 players. ... MP3 players are changing peoples listening habits. We don’t carry folders filled with CDs anymore. We carry our library in our MP3 players. We don’t listen to CDs. We listen to playlists that we adjust all the time. We don’t burn CDs anymore, it’s too time consuming. We copy all our music to our MP3 players so it’s all available at our fingertips.

All of our music in a single device. Available to us wherever we are, for whenever we want it. Music how we want it, when we want it. Easy and breezy. That’s how we want to consume music."

Slightly more perceptive is the reason why CDs still exist even now:

"At least until the music industry goes to DVD Audio or copy protected CDs, I know that with the CD, I have control over my music. I can make my own personal copies. I can put them in apple format for my IPod, Sony format for my new digital walkman or PSP, MicroSoft format for my PC, or whatever else comes along.

That’s the only good reason to own a CD. To deal with the hassles that you know will come from having to deal with all the different formats that MP3 players will support in coming years."

This is almost the complete truth. I have a wall of about 1,400 CDs. My iPod and iTunes on my computer have essentially reduced these to backup files -- some with interesting cover art. The rest of the truth, though, is that these CDs contain digital information -- information that is much denser than the information contained in the mp3 files on my iPod.

In other words, CDs sound better than mp3s.

This is a bit of a cliche, but like most cliches it is one because it is the truth.

For all music, but particularly for classical music, it sounds better from a CD, and this is true even when listening to iTunes on my stereo. The difference is subtle, but it exists.

But not forever.

I think that the real death knell for CDs (at least for people like me) will come when hard drives (whether in portable players, laptops or desktops) are large enough and downloads are fast enough that CD quality sound files (or even better -- remember that the CD standard is essentially arbitrary) can replace mp3 quality files. At that point there really will be no need to have CDs as anything other than backup.

Cuban goes on to examine how these changes in music consumption patterns will inevitably lead to changes in music distribution methods. What is odd about his forecast is that he seems to predict that the product will look essentially like that currently offered by iTunes (single song or album availability) but that the medium of distribution will remain housed within a brick-and-mortar retailer ("record" store, Wal-Mart, etc. -- albeit through the use of a self-serve kiosk).

What he doesn't mention is: A) how this solves his previously identified problem regarding digital rights management ("If I want to buy downloads from the net, it’s like trying to figure out which mortga(g)e to take out on a house. No(t) because of the cost, but because of all the rules and regulations. Do I want to limit myself to 5 computers. Do I want to always keep my subscription live. Do I want to store the music in a proprietary format that only a couple devices can use. Those are all tough decisions to make when the only thing I know with certainty is that the device I’m using as an MP3 player today, is NOT going to be the device I’m going to be using 18 months from now."), and B) why the end distributor is likely to be a brick-and-mortar retailer rather than on online retailer who will be accessed by consumers wherever they are (at home or wirelessly).

Isn't the end of this more likely to be a product that weds the wireless communication of a Blackberry with the storage (increased storage, moreover) and playback capacity of an iPod? With such a device you could theoretically walk down the street listening to a song which spurs the memory of another song -- one you'd just have to have. Within seconds you could buy the song, download it directly to your device and be ready to listen to it when the current song ends. Direct to player (as Cuban intends), with no middleman whatsoever.

And everything in full CD sound quality.


At 7:30 PM, Blogger *~*Michelle*~* said...

Very interesting. I never looked at it that way, but everything you say is pretty valid!


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