I’ve put a picture in here (congratulate me, I’m new to this) to illustrate something we’re thinking about here at BlancoMusic. We recently pressed a CD up, packaged it, and are now sitting around in office space that is cluttered up with boxes of the things. Some of them have been sent out to reviewers and critics around the world at an expense that averaged out at around five euros per cd sent (manufacture, postage, packaging etc). I’ve yet to see any of the sources to whom the cds were sent (all solicited and asked-for, naturally) actually post a review of the record – it seems that their little act is to bolster up their cd racks with free product sent to them by hapless record labels. Anyway, enough of that. What I’m trying to illustrate is that CDs cost a lot to manufacture per unit, are selling fewer and fewer units and take up a lot of space. One of the reasons why the likes of EMI end up with 1.8bn debts is because they get a couple of million CDs pressed and have to store them, transport them etc. There’s no point ordering them as you need them, if you sell a million and don’t have another million ready to go, you’re royally screwed. Or, you order ten million, sell 4 million and have 6million copies gathering dust. The shelf-life is somewhere in the same region as onions, they’ll last a while, but not hold value forever. OK, the audio quality of cds is high, compared to mp3 they are like diamonds compared to coal, but the market is getting smaller and smaller because, in the majority of cases, the first thing people do with a cd is convert it to mp3 for their iPods etc. So let’s look a few years down the line and see the CD in the same specialist role as vinyl inhabits now. Will people still want a physical product or not? If they do, might it be something like the picture? Credit-card size, not much thicker than a euro coin, loads of storage space and a nice flat area for artwork. We could fill it with music, video, artwork, links, etc. The punter gets to wipe it and use it for their own needs too, if they fancy doing so. What makes it attractive to us lot is that, we could buy in a load of them, load them up, print out an artwork, assemble as needed. If one act only sells a couple of thousand, no drama, we can use the units for another act, different sticker. It’s all a bit mucky and sordid and cynical compared to the simple confidence of buying a load of vinyl and getting a million records pressed, but the times tend to dictate, and right now the very idea of a physical artefact is becoming so marginalised that it is difficult to countenance shelling out the two-grand or so that it takes to get a mere thousand cds pressed, packaged and delivered on the hopes that they all get sold.
There’s a side-idea too. If the device could record how often it’s been played, or if it’s been copied, it would be possible to offer a ‘if you don’t like the album, we’ll send you a refund’ guarantee. As long as it hadn’t been played more than, say, three times, or copied. That would address the whole argument so constantly cited, that people don’t want to buy albums because they’re full of duff tracks.
Just thinking out loud, not a fully-fledged idea yet. Not saying I invented it either, I’m sure someone’s doing it already.