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?

11 thoughts on “Let us now praise the lowly compact disc

  1. Hi David, agree — I think there\’s a place for the CD that offers exclusive value only available with the CD: content, bonus tracks, promo code to drive online chance to win, etc. The merchandising placement also key for impulse convenience — at checkout, related item, end aisle, theater lobbies — tied to worthy cause, relief effort, etc. For the environment, packaging should be biodegradable, recycled paper — even go one more step — perforate a panel of the CD card stock and plant it to grow a tree (organic seed embedded paper). Now that would be sustainable. Nevertheless, nothing will ever replace the Beatles White Album (vinyl). Simplistic, powerful. I even steamed the corner to see if I had a copy with John and Ono naked underneath. Now that was buzz… (the early years)!

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  3. I think that this kind of distribution is a smart move for the record company\’s, however as a person that loves music I will never buy a CD in a grocery – it\’s just makes me feel like the CD is cheap – hence the music don\’t worth much. ( I know it\’s not true but hey that\’s my psychology:)

  4. In a word, YES. Though I\’m not sure I would purchase a CD even if I\’m in love with the package design, I KNOW my mom and dad would buy that up! A good friend of mine is a pro in package design and turned a CD into a sort of Origami contraption…when I first held it in my hands, I was amazed…I wasn\’t used to seeing, feeling, holding a CD that was just plain cool.

    It seems like the Boomer demographic would buy those up in a heartbeat…or at least, appreciate them as a token of love from a family member. There is something about music today that I feel like my generation is missing out on (I\’m 26)…we\’ll never get that nostalgic feeling that generations prior experience when holding an old record. I remember when my parents had crates full of Jethro Tull, Yes!, Pink Floyd, and that beautiful White Album (my favorite). There was a distinctive quality about each record, each with it\’s own set of emotions.

    In thinking about my generation, Gen Y / Millenials / Generation Next /etc…

    We have access to beautiful, powerful, viral music from artists across the nations. Pandora, Blip, Myspace, and even file sharing etc. (all free, online) We no longer experience the vinyl record or even the CD for that matter. However, we will proudly display a brand\’s logo or signature on our clothing. We\’ll share their music with all of our friends. We live and breathe music. We also love going to concerts and will pay extra $$$ for great seats. But, I wonder about how we\’ll recall the great artists of our day long into the future.

    Great post, definitely got me thinking.

  5. I know everyone is into downloads now but I just don\’t feel right not having a disc of some sort;something tangible. just having a download somehow seems a bit\’ephemeral\’ for want of a better word. What about album covers…you don\’t get them with a download. I\’ve still got loads of old LPs but nothing to play them on. Will still keep them though.

  6. Sound quality has been forgotten in the mp3 age. A good way to sell quality recordings at lower price might be as high quality flac downloads. I know this is being done to a limited extent already. It would eliminate much distribution and packaging expense. CD cover inserts could also be downloaded and printed at the local Kinko\’s. Just a thought.

  7. I would still want to pick up some favorites in physical format, for the packaging. This may not be an option for long though.

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