Why buy CDs? It's instant music, stupid

Consumption habits of the SuBo Tribe

Andrew's Mailbag I recently mused on how the CD was taking an awful long time to die. Susan Boyle has just become the fastest selling CD on Amazon. Now it could be that SuBo is our revenge on any relative who ever bought us a dodgy sweater for Christmas. It's a weapon of mass retaliation. But a lot of people are ensuring the CD endures. Why so, dear readers?

Good article but the big thing you missed are that CD's are (more by luck then design) a great data carrier and backup storage medium.  They work in cars, dvd, players, and computers.    In a pedantic way I would also dispute your point that the cd will die, it will actually become a minority (non mass market) format in the way that vinyl has.   Your main point about record companies not knowing how to sell/package files for consumers is true and needs to be said loudly.  I would add that this should be the number 1 priority at Universal Music and other majors, rather then the short term approach of focusing on the next big thing.    Best wishes

Martin Goldschmidt

Managing Director, Cooking Vinyl

I just wanted to add that the CD is still enjoying a lot success here in the States because of the fact that it plays quite nicely in people's autos. I've noticed that most people don't really bother to replace the standard CD system in vehicles and they never notice the little MP3 icon on the set either. So, to them, you buy it in the shop, fight the the packaging in the parking lot and then play the music on your way out. That's pretty hard to beat.

Plus it's my opinion that most Americans listen to music almost exclusively in their vehicle.


Will Leamon.

I think those two get the primary attraction. The CD infrastructure is an instant music system. No ripping required. The net-connected laptop is only an instant music system while you're at your laptop. On the net.

Can't speak for everyone else but the reasons *I* do include:   1) The accompanying artwork is truly portable (if not actually readable without a Fresnel lens) without the need for batteries or a Wi-Fi connection.   2) I like the idea of an album as a conceptual package, which the digital "buy by the track" concept undermines. I want to hear what the artists have to say, whether I end up liking it or not.   3) I believe digital "buy by the track" music marketing will eventually stifle innovation on account of if you only ever get exposed to what you know you won't ever know any different. A similar rot has set in in the publishing world for unnervingly similar reasons, and is killing innovation (even by very popular authors) there.   4) I object on principal to renting my bought and paid for entertainment. Nothing spells R-E-N-T like the "license" on DRMed music. On the day that I can't "rip" (hateful term; sounds like I'm breaking something for the sake of it) music from my CDs digitally for increased portability I will simply go back to doing it the analog way.   5) A CD is built for my convenience. A digital track and the player it plays on is usually constructed for someone else's convenience first and mine as an afterthought. Wrong way round if you want my dollars.   6) A CD requires no internet connection to use, nor is it subject to being wiped clean by a fault in a computer. Not only that, should the CD player break down, I don't have to buy the CDs all over again and more than one person can use the CD collection without impacting anyone else's preferences (yes, I'm talking about your crappy iTunes product Mr. Jobs).   7) A CD doesn't (currently) need the player to phone Microsoft to ask permission to play itself. If it ever does, I shall simply stop buying them too.   Solid state music storage and reproduction is a great idea, long past its due date. I might be persuaded to forego the artwork to own music stored on chips (but it would be with great sadness and the wry observation that the digital world had actually reduced the dimensions of the overall concept compared with 30 years ago). The model that has been developed to deliver digital music to the buying public is a boil on the backside of civilization, and the inventors should be publicly horsewhipped for perpetrating the swindle.   Steve Mann.

In reply to your article, I buy CDs because they can't be stolen from me. If I leave my music on my PC, I am vulnerable to it disappearing. And sometimes, shock horror, I don't have my PC on -- just my CD player. I don't have an MP3 player, nor do I want one, as none of them handle classical music well at all. I buy CDs from obscure companies doing unpopular music (early French baroque, etc), and so far they produce CDs, because they can, and don't sell MP3s on the web, because they can't afford to.

I feel that the 'fringe' music interests are forgotten in the mass of popular music. I feel CDs, however ephemeral their stability turns out to be, are more akin to books: portable, usable all over the place, and mine. As with CDs, so with books: my interests fall outside the mainstream book market, so I am never going to find the books I want on a Kindle.

Perhaps my generation has to die out before everything is digital? Do not go gentle into that good night...

Carolyn Clarke

Because it is uncompressed, it comes already backed up on physical media, it is easy and convenient to rip and store in my FLAC music repository.   From there, I can transcode easily to AAC, MP3 or whatever compressed format of the week the family wants in their players… and stream to my music centre via the PS3.   Buy music in some specific, compressed format? Why?   Vennlig hilsen  / Best Regards  Morten Torstensen

Er, convenience. But that's only instant gratification if you're in front of a computer. Strange how convenience now has to be qualified.

Here's another reason: regional licensing:

I can buy a CD from Amazon.ca, .com, .co.uk, .co.jp (and I have bought from all of them).

But I can't buy an MP3 from Amazon.com. I can only use iTunes.ca, if the track I want is only available on iTunes.com or iTunes some other place in the world too bad for me. The labels say they can't help it, it's not licenced for your zone...  BS, who wrote the so called licence? You did, that's the way they want it.

An MP3 should be like a CD. If I want to go to iTunes.co.jp and pay 100 yen for a track I should be able to. Any one who is willing to pay the price they ask should be able to buy.

Tom Smith

That doesn't look like it's going to improve much any time soon. It's worse now than two years ago, with the big publishers withdrawing the digital rights from the collective licensing system.

- because they contain full quality, uncompressed digital audio! - because they can be then compressed at whatever quality/bitrate I require! - because they have no DRM / copy protection on! - they come with artwork and usually lyrics!

I'm trying to get as many CD's as possible before they disappear from the shelves so that I can own master type copies of classic recordings - not compressed "nearly" copies.

Mike Pratt

1. Listening in the car - between the fact that aux inputs/iPod interfaces are not completely ubiquitous and that car stereos provide for better muscle memory so as not to take your eyes off the road than jacking in a portable unit, people still listen to CDs in the car.

2. Habit - my parents simply cannot understand (or more accurately, refuse to care enough to understand) digital media.  There's a substantial enough chunk of the market for whom purchasing a CD is just what they're used to and will continue to do so until forced not to.  I still know people who gripe they can't get modern movies on VHS.

3. Reliability - many of the digital media companies do not offer the ability to redownload lost or damaged tracks.  Buying a CD, ripping it, and sticking the original away gives many people the security of knowing that if their hard drive dies they can still listen to their music.

4. People still like the physical artifact, as I believe Thom Yorke phrased it.  There's a perceived "value" to owning a physical object that doesn't come from having a legal right to a bunch of bits.

5. Quality - (though this is a smaller factor than the above four) Some people can both tell the difference between compressed and uncompressed audio and have the quality of speakers necessary to really enjoy it. Until there is a ubiquitous uncompressed standard that is supported by both hardware makers and music services, I'll continue to buy the higher quality audio products.

Ubiquity is also the reason that the various attempts to replace or improve the CD failed (solid state, MiniDisc, SACD, DVD-A) - they failed to make it inexpensive enough to appeal to the mass market which meant that no one bothered to support it except for niches like audiophile classical.

Joe Schottman

Who keeps buying CDs? I do... I don't buy many, perhaps a couple a month, and most of them were issued originally as vinyl, any time in the last forty years. But I don't file-share, and I won't buy *anything* with DRM - if it's only available with DRM, I'll do without.

You got it spot on with the comment I used as the subject. They work, they work first time, they're everywhere, and my octogenarian parents can use them without an issue.

Doesn't stop me ripping them to a hard drive - uncompressed, of course - and playing them from a number of different devices. I'm old enough to assume that if I bought it, I own it - nobody's ever mentioned 'licensing' with regard to music. But for every bit of music on any of my hard drives, there's a CD in a box somewhere around the house.

And that's why I'll keep buying them; I don't want the worthless ephemera that is a 'download'; I want something I can hold in my hand.

I buy books, too, and scan them to various ebook forms (that new Sony Pocket is really rather nice - but I'm not allowed to play with it till xmas!)... same logic.

Didn't Borland have a sensible license, once upon a while ago? Please treat this software as if it were a book...


Neil Barnes

I'd love to ditch CDs... the reason I don't is because I've not found anyone out there supplying downloads of a comparable quality to CD... The moment that happens, I won't buy another CD ever...



"Why do people keep buying CDs?"

1) Many people only have CD players in their cars 2) Not everyone owns an iPod / MP3 player 3) It's a generational thing 4) CD's are easy to buy 5) Some like / prefer CD packaging ( perhaps not as much as liked albums ) 6) It is it's own backup once ripped 7) It has resale value ( esp car boot / charity shop / eBay ) 8) Streaming hasn't become ubiquitous, nor near zero-cost 9) Streaming needs a powered-up PC server ( most aren't low power and silent yet ) 10) My CD players plays CD's perfectly fine, why spend money on new kit ?

Hope that helps.

All the best,

Jason Bloomberg

I started writing a response to you even before I checked the author of the bit on CD purchasing...

Despite the fact that I resent being implicitly labelled 'less tech-savvy' because I like hard media, I'll explain to you why I buy CDs:

It's about value.

I'm paying for the booklet (which is nice) but also for the freedom the CD represents.  I will rip it and park it on my mythbuntu box. But if I want to re-rip it (to some other format), I can just insert the CD and do it again.  Or if I have a horrible head crash, I just unbox the 200+ CDs I own, and rip them again (can't be bothered to back up 90Gb of FLAC files).

No matter what happens to file formats, to my home media, to anything. I can always break out the CD and rip it again (well, except for that one track on Storm Front that got very badly scratched last time, and the two tracks on the wife's ancient Madonna collection).

To be honest, I don't quite follow the whole DRM thing in nauseating detail, but it seems that anyone with a big enough music collection that they want to sell me will also enforce DRM.  Which means that if I want to play the song in my car, or on my phone, or in my ebook, or on my mythbuntu box, I'll have to find a way to make it portable.

And I just can't be bothered.

So for now, I'll keep buying CDs. I'll rip each one to FLAC for the mythbuntu box, then convert to MP3 for my laptop (while at the office) and my phone (for in the train and the plane) and if I ever decide I want to hear it in the car, I'll bring the disc (well, for the moment - I'm joining the 21st century by installing an AUX cable shortly).

Of course, the 'redownload' topic is an interesting one, and I confess to having no qualms about downloading a copy of "all the right reasons" after the disc was broken - I still have the box anyway.

Finally: I look at my music collection like I look at my paper books: if someone will give it to me in a DRM-Free, compromise-free format for a reasonable price (say, no more than 1 or 2 euros) in exchange for my hard media, then I'll swap.  Until then, I'll keep buying CDs and dead trees.



These are strange times for the makers of high-end consumer HiFi...

Saw your article on El Reg this afternoon, and found it interesting. I'm slightly bemused by Linn's decision to stop focusing on CD players though - one would think that a company catering to mid-to-upper-market audiophiles might realise that MP3 and internet radio streams aren't really where their main revenue, uh, streams are. Or, to put it less wordily - you don't spend £1k on a box that can only play digital formats, as at present the majority of those files don't have the sound quality of CDs. And that can hold true for files streamed from a PC or downloaded from itunes or other sources.

The thing is, CDs are still the default choice for most musical output, from obscure surf guitar to mainstream MOR pop - as you say, they're convenient - and even if the first and only action that the consumer's copy undergoes is ripping it to FLAC, ogg, or vbr MP3, it offers a degree of control over the sound quality and playability (ie DRM) not present in any of the mainstream offerings. I dunno, perhaps I'm atypical, but I own a rival to Linn's Classik all-in-one, plus some fairly tasty speakers, don't fileshare (because it's just too much hassle) and buy all my music as CDs on eBay or Amazon. I listen to most of my music at work as MP3s (or on the train/ plane/ automobiles), but still like to own the physical product, if only for the aforementioned convenience, or to remind me to listen to it occasionally.

Nick Drew

I thought I'd get tons of mail from audio connoisseurs. Did nobody hear me say Linn? Nobody at all?

I'll get my coat. ®

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