Let us now praise the lowly compact disc

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Universal Music Group recently inspired some yawns and head-scratching by announcing price reductions for compact discs in order to revive some life in the dying musical format.  Perhaps Ars Technica put it best in this headline: “Years late, Universal cuts CD prices to combat poor sales.”  So is there any hope for the CD?  I think there is — albeit just a glimmer of hope.  But price cutting is not enough.  Here are some more compelling reasons to purchase a CD in my view:

  • Exciting packaging.  Consumers are attracted to an experience.  And even the small CD format can provide one.  Witness the phenomenal sales realized by the September 2009 repackaging (and remastering) of the Beatles catalog. More than 2.25 million units of the Beatles catalog flew off the shelf within the first two weeks of their release.  The re-release of the Beatles catalog was treated as a major event by EMI, Apple, and Sony, with consumer excitement generated by heavy promotion.  I also like how Cirque du Soleil packaged CDs in a playful way to promote its Kooza show in 2008 — an inspiring example of how to build a brand in a surprising way.
  • Exclusive content.  Ashley Tisdale makes available a limited edition of Guilty Pleasure, which contains bonus tracks and merchandise.  As reported by The New York Times, bands ranging from Dave Matthews Band to Green Day are finding the release of exclusive content to be an attractive way to generate sales.  (In a twist on this approach, the Beastie Boys embedded surprise bonus tracks to spur interest in the vinyl re-issue of its 1992 recording, Check Your Head.)
  • Creative distribution.  Well established bands like AC/DC and the Eagles have enjoyed success through the distribution of their music through the powerful Walmart retail network.  One can argue their music becomes devalued in that the CD becomes just another low-priced commodity snatched off the shelf by shoppers pushing their carts from the grocery section to home furnishings.  But that’s exactly the point: instead of making consumers make a special trip to a music retailer, distribute the product where consumers are already buying merchandise — where it’s not a stretch to shell out an additional $10 for one more item in your shopping cart.

So, what do you think: is there any hope for the CD?