Select Page

I understand the draw of the physical purchase. I dig the appeal of the sleeve notes. I totally get the joy of ownership. But I wonder — how much longer are you going to have to keep making CDs?

I’m not a fan of the CD format. I understand why other people appreciate its convenience, but for me, it’s a bucket in which to carry home the music. Once I get it there, I empty the bucket out into my computer, and then I’m left with a useless receptacle. Mostly, I hand the disc onto someone else, take it down the Oxfam or throw it away.

Let’s think about that bucket metaphor a bit longer. It’s as if there’s a well of music down in the village high street where I collect my music. I draw it up from the well, and take it home to use (actually, I tend not to buy CDs — a point I’ll return to — but for the sake of the analogy, let’s pretend).

Now that so many people have broadband plumbing, the bucket is less important than it once was. You can fill your own buckets (ie: burn your own CDs — see how this metaphor thing works?) to go and do things outside, but when you’re at home, they’re just taking up space.

But a lot of people like the bucket. They’ve invested so much in collecting them, it would be a major drama to switch entirely over to the internal plumbing and the 160GB USB external hot water cylinder.

I was lucky. I moved to the other side of the world a couple of years back, and that made it the perfect time to reappraise my attachment to the physical disc and its annoyingly breakable plastic case. As a matter of necessity, everything was transferred to hard drive and the CDs themselves were dispatched with.

I think for most consumers of music media, this will be a longer process. We’re starting to see it happen — as digital downloads increase, sales of CDs decrease — but there is naturally an emotional and conceptual attachment to the physical disc and its packaging.

But interestingly, vinyl is on the upswing. I know I buy vinyl whenever possible, and that’s not just because I’m old and nostalgic, and nor simply because I’m a DJ.

Vinyl is again becoming the format of choice for serious music collection and ‘full focus of attention’ music consumption. The rise in record sales is not being reflected particularly well in the international literature, because counting systems such as Soundscan don’t factor in the smaller independent record stores, where most of the vinyl is being purchased.

In fact, according to this article in the Billings Gazette, a growing number of labels are choosing to release as digital downloads for the general consumer and as vinyl records for the DJ and connoisseur. They’re starting to skip the CD all together.

Some people, though a diminishing amount, still insist on the compact disc as their preferred music entertainment platform, but its popularity is starting to wane in the face of the convenience of downloads and the richness of the physical experience and collectibility of vinyl.

Which, when you translate it back to the water analogy, is like acknowledging that people have plumbing for everyday drinking, washing, cooking and bathing, but sometimes they like to sit down and consume bottled sparkling mineral water.

Pretty much nobody’s using buckets from the well these days.