The future (or lack thereof?) of the compact disc

The future (or lack thereof?) of the compact disc

Thu, 2/12/2009 - 3:25pm — Jim Ginsburg
Feb 12, 2009

I have been asked to serve on a panel at the Music Librarians' Association's Annual Meeting later this month, here in Chicago. The title of the session is:
What’s Next? The Compact Disc as a Viable Format in the Future of Music Recording
In my remarks, I have been asked to address the following three questions:
1.    What is the likelihood of CDs ceasing to be a viable format for delivery of recorded music to consumers?
2.    If CDs do cease to be viable, what will take their place?
3.    How will your professional practices change in response to developments in how music is delivered to consumers?
Obviously, I will need to answer the third question from my unique take as President of Cedille Records. But I have no exclusive insights on the first two questions. I would be very interested to learn what music consumers think about these.
Clearly market share of downloads is going up while CD sales are going down. But is there a limit to this trend? Will CDs be around forever? If so, what percent of the music market will they ultimately command? If not, will it be because electronic delivery completely supplants the need for CDs, or could another mass market physical product for music delivery replace the compact disc?
Are there other questions I should seek to answer in relation to the ones presented above?
Please give me your thoughts on these questions or any other ideas that seem relevant to the topic at hand.


re: future of CD's

I also wondered about the future of CD's and I'm shocked at some of the ignorant comments I've read on the net about CD's. Me I'm not concerned about how many bells and whistles are embedded in the sound and I'm also certainly not wanting to nor am I going to start spending more hard earned money on things I don't need. Ipod's are about the dumbest thing around you drop one or subject it to static charge and it's all over. You've then lost every single thing you've put on it. If you've downloaded 400 songs time a buck, you've lost $400 bucks. Storing your stuff on hard drives are no different. I'm not that spoiled kid who advocates or demands to do away with CD media because he wants to go out and spend more of daddy or mommy's money to buy something just for the sake of it being new. CD media has finally come down to a affordable price and so have CD players and ROM's. CD media will also last a 100 years if it's taken care of. Try that will a hard drive which is only good for about 5 years or less. CD's are also a great way of storing digital photographs and any other files. Let me put it this way, they done away with video tape media and I haven't bought or downloaded not ONE movie since and that's exactly what's going to happen if they do away with CD's I've had it with changing media formats in order to make me spend more money and if it don't come on the radio or TV as in free broadcast, I'm not having it and that's that.

Future of The CD

Gee, I hope the CD is not going extinct. I prefer CD's to downloading MP3's, however I have downloaded hundreds of MP3's from file sharing sites, mostly Hip Hop music that I don't really need the packaging and notes at the moment but I do intend on buying the legitimate album at sometime in the future.

For me a lover and collector of classic R&B, Blues, Jazz and Rock the packaging of the album is very very very important to me. I was born in the late 1970s and was not around when the artists were alive or in their prime so I find that the photos, the stories and discography information are extremely interesting and something I could not do without. The notes make it possible for me to learn something about the artists and the era, it allows me to discover other artists that influenced the singer or group, it allows me to know what side men played on what particular record, what year the song came out, what record label the artist was on. There are so many things that are great about CD's and Records. I routinely buy LP's because many albums are not available on CD, especially the more rare Doo Wop singles and BeBop albums. Most of all buying a record is not just about the experience of the music itself, it's about having a little something to call your own and making a connection to the artist and the era, something a MP3 cannot replace.

Until the big wigs at the record companies make available the packaging for download and reproduction at home (not just the covers, which are available on most releases), and make all the music in there catalogs available I will continue to buy CD's for the reasons mentioned above and because CD's are the cheapest way for me to listen to music because I do not own a computer of my own and could not afford a computer with enough space to store all my thousands of CD's and Records anyway.

Lastly, I think the CD will be around for at least the next 25 or 30 years to serve the collector market (folks like me). The CD will be like the 33 and the 45 is now - a novelty printed in small numbers for collectors.

It's too OBVIOUS to just assume that the CD is dead...

I honestly think there is always going to be a market for an album that can be purchased in a store, in a hard format, with packaging and artwork. I think there is always going to be enough of a percentage of people who want that option, and even kids will ask their parents and grandparents how they used to buy music, and they will want the experience of going to a store to buy a proper album themselves at some point in their lives. Not everybody is going to be content only with a little contraption that contains digital music and no artwork presentation. CDs will become less popular than downloads, but I just don't believe they will complete fade out. What do you do when you want to give somebody an album for a birthday present, just give them a download coupon? How boring. People are always going to want to give somebody an official album with artwork as a gift, which can then be ripped to the recipients iPod, mp3 player or computer if they wish. That being said, I think the CD is going to be one of those formats that surprises everyone, in that unlike cassettes and vinyl, it will remain the medium of choice for sale in the high street store for many years to come. I didn't used to believe this as much until the Mini-Disc failed, but that alone convinced me that in terms of going out and purchasing an album as a piece of artwork, the CD appears to have been accepted as being compact enough for the general public in terms of it's size.

For me personally, there are

For me personally, there are really only two ways the CD loses viability:

1) Widespread use of a newer physical format (SACD, or whatever) that offers more than two channels. CDs are more than enough to accurately reproduce the performances, but they're limited to two channels. On the other hand, my headphones are only stereo, as are my computer speakers; so I might actually prefer CDs for that reason. I have a hybrid SACD/CD that ripped fine on my computer, so that would probably be ideal; 2 channels for my computer, 5 elsewhere.

2) FLACs, which you have mentioned. While properly encoded MP3s are almost always indistinguishable from the original, there are problem samples here and there; and the harpsichord has proven especially tricky. I'm more comfortable with lossless encoding, and I always rip my CDs to FLAC.

Of course, I'll have no choice if CDs disappear. But there'll be used CDs available for years to come, so I can console myself that way.

Future of the CD

Hi Jim,

Thanks for your post, about which the following observations:

I don't own an MP3 player, and for now the CD remains the way I listen to music. However, I have a tough time thinking of a business model in which CDs have much life left.

So far I have downloaded two albums, both purchased as MP3s from Amazon. The first includes Beethoven's 4th and 5th symphonies, in excellent performances by Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. The series appears on the Simax label, for which US distribution is extremely spotty. I had ordered Dausgaard's "Eroica" on CD from MDT in England, but exchange rates pushed the price to well over $20. Amazon sells its MP3 version for nine bucks, which is how I bought the 4th and 5th.

Amazon's downloads are DRM-free.

One problem with CDs is that we no longer have the retail infrastructure to support them. Borders seems to be the only area brick-and-mortar store with significant space devoted to classical CDs, but the section has contracted in recent years and I often walk out without finding anything interesting. Their buyers seem to be wandering in a fog. Compare that to Crow's Nest downtown, which closed a couple years ago and whose buyers were obviously passionate about what they did.

If, as with many retailers, the mission is to cut costs to the bone and move volume, that's just not an effective scenario for a niche market.

I am pleased to see that the mom-and-pop stores that remain seem to be hanging in, good examples being Chicago Digital in Oak Park, Oak Park Records, and 2nd Hand Tunes in Evanston. I also read that within the last couple years, classical CD sales had gone up by 25 percent. I wonder if people stopped buying because the stores were disappearing, then got more comfortable with ordering online.

Then we arrive at the evolution in sound, such as SACD. My understanding is that SACDs are copy protected, and as far as I know, there's no such thing as a downloadable music file with the expanded frequency range or multichannel capability of SACD, at least not yet. It's a moot point for me, since I don't own SACD equipment, but it would appear to be the logical next step for an upgrade.

Dileep makes an excellent point about downloads being more practical for low-volume recordings, and represent a lower-cost way for emerging musicians to publish recordings.

Thanks for listening!


Future of CDs

I find that I've been spoiled by a streaming music subscription.

Even if I own the CD, I'll stream it with a few clicks in lieu of picking the CD out of the rack, extracting it from the jewel case (without cracking that brittle styrene,) and loading it in the player for about an hour of play. And assumes I want to hear an entire CD program.

I can accomplish the same without a subscription by "ripping" my CDs onto my PC's hard drive, but I'm too spoiled for that unless the track is unavailable otherwise.


The Future of CDs - Interesting Topic for Discussion

Hello Jim,

Great topic for all of us. In my opinion, CDs will be to downloads like the vinyl LP was to the CD. In other words, it is hard for me to believe that future generations will want to consume music in the CD format.

I say this for several reasons:
1) I watch how my kids purchase music. It is all done through iTunes and never by CD. Their choices are not limited in any way. The packaging material such as booklet with musical notes, lyrics, photos does not seem to have any real value to them - they can get that on line and print it up if they want it.

2) Downloads allow small groups to produce recordings very cheaply and not at 1000 unit minimums. I think that this is important for the classical world where sellling in four digits can often be considered a home run.

3)As portable units become even more prevalent, storage will increase. You can take your entire music library with you and plug it in where ever you go. In the car, on tour, at a hotel, waiting for the train, etc.

It is interesting that most consumers are not concerned with issues around file compression and sound quality vs other formats. And even their concerns may be allayed over time with developments in technology.

I have seen CDs being sold but usually at concerts and for audience members to make an impulse purchase to take their listening experience home with them.

Like the 8-track or cassette tape (remember those?), I have to think that the CD will slowly become part of audio history as technology and consumer behavior marches forward.

Just my opinion....

Thanks Dileep

The advances in technology, I have learned, are there already -- e.g., Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). It's just a question of how long they will take to gain widespread use.

Please give me your thoughts

I posted these questions on a classical music discussion group yesterday and there have been 120 comments there already, so I know this is a topic of considerable interest. I look forward to learning what readers think.

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