newsflash just passed through the ether that CD sales last
week were the lowest in almost 10 years. The No. 1 CD in the
country is the new Johnny Cash CD, which sold an unremarkable
80,000 units. For perspective, during the boy-band scare of
the late ’90s, new CDs would routinely sell a couple million
on their first day.
Now, this may be an aberration. You know, like all those phony
claims about global warming. But I don’t think so.
CDs are a dying breed. Make room in the basement, in the corner
where you keep the dregs of your vinyl record collection.
Your CDs are moving in.
The more people get broadband Internet, the more digital downloads
become attractive. Drop-dead gorgeous is more like it. The
only thing holding the deluge back is the inevitable jockeying
for a standard format, a universal means of getting and listening.
This isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon, but it will
You don’t need 75 minutes of music from every artist you take
a fancy to. You probably don’t need more than a song or two.
And you certainly don’t need the idiotic “jewel case” or a
shiny plastic disc or a glossy little book you’ll maybe look
at once, if you can get it out of the idiotic jewel case without
trashing it. All you need is a digital file, that you can
put on a hard drive somewhere, stick on a gizmo that you can
put in your pocket, and maybe burn onto a CD with 15 or 20
of your other favorite songs by different artists.
If this all sounds foreign or scary to you, it’s time to wake
up. This has been the future for a long time.
ITunes is, of course, the big kahuna, but the tracks you get
from the iTunes store are burdened with anti-copying restrictions.
Microsoft is taking aim at Apple, and is going to release
a much ballyhooed “iPod killer” device this fall, which is
supposedly going to lure people away from the iTunes music
store to Microsoft’s music store. Microsoft, of course, will
fail, because, well, Microsoft generally sucks no matter what
they do. Unless Microsoft takes the bold step of selling tracks
without anti-copying restrictions. And they should, because
Because I think what’s going to happen is that competition
will eventually result in the peeling off of the onerous restrictions
that currently burden most legitimately purchased digital-download
files. Millions of people (like me) are flocking to the Russian
site AllofMP3.com for music, and not just because tracks are
about 10 cents apiece. The site is also popular because, unlike
any pay-download site, you can get songs in your choice of
formats (I get straight MP3s) and qualities (I like near-CD
quality 320 bps), and all of the formats are free of the goopy
anti-copying restrictions that almost all of the online music
vendors slather on their downloads. You can copy and transfer
the songs all you want without fear.
I say “almost all music vendors” because a crack in the wall
occurred last week. Yahoo’s music store offered a Jessica
Simpson track as a straight MP3, without any restrictions
at all. Yahoo’s charging a premium, $1.99, for the track,
but it’s a start, notwithstanding the fact that most people
who would want to buy a Jessica Simpson song are probably
too stupid to know the difference. Yahoo did this to draw
attention to its music store, and to distinguish itself from
everybody else. I’d like to think that it’s the modest beginning
of the end for the rampant anti-copying technologies that
are screwing up most people’s digital music collections.
And Microsoft’s only hope of making a dent in iTunes’ hegemony
is do Yahoo one better and offer its entire catalog as a real
alternative, and right now the only alternative on the horizon,
the only one people want (whether they know it or not) is
untampered, unrestricted music downloads.
And for crying out loud, don’t do it at $1.99 a track. That’s
My band, Blotto, had its first CD go out of print recently.
We’re selling nicely on iTunes and about 20 other (and lesser)
online music sites. I seriously considered just not reprinting
any more CDs—why deal with the expense, the hassle, the shipping,
the shelf-space and the goddamned jewel-boxes? But I realized
that, well, we’re talking about a collection of 25-year-old
music here, with prospective purchasers who—how can I say
this delicately?—tend to trend to an older demographic? Many
Blottophiles, I suspect, aren’t yet completely hep to that
crazy digital scene, daddy-o. So, it’s probably a good idea
for us keep the CDs available, at least for now, and we will.
But if we had a geezer-free fan base, I don’t think we’d bother.
Kids don’t care about CDs anymore. Why should they?