Yesterday I went to my favorite Borders bookstore and was shocked to see that they had removed their entire music shopping area. Life is getting mighty hard for record stores and High Fidelity type dudes. Now, it’s been awhile since I bought any CDs at Borders, so I won’t miss it, but seeing that big gapping space in the back of the store made me realize that the era of the CD is over.
If you go to Google News and search on DRM, you’ll see all the announcements about how Rhapsody Music will now sell DRM-free songs and albums. I’m in the process of ripping my old CD collection, which is very time consuming. From now on, whenever I buy a new song or album I’ll just get the digital edition. The last CDs my wife and I bought were a few Beatles titles we didn’t already have. Beatles For Sale might have been our last CD purchase.
It’s a whole new world for music fans, that’s been evolving since the advent of the MP3 player, and especially since the iPod. But what does this paradigm shift mean?
When music albums shifted from LPs to CDs, cover art moved from major galleries to refrigerator art. Going from CD to MP3 we lose the art altogether. I think a marketing angle record companies should pursue is adding cover art to sales of digital albums. I’d recommend setting up a free standard for desktop art gallery software, like I envisioned in Inventions Wanted #4 – The Desktop Art Gallery. Or at least back existing desktop software like Webshots. Then if buyers select a whole album to buy, reward them with several desktop scenes of music related pop art.
Another feature to be missed is liner notes. I loved the liner notes on the old huge 12″ record jackets, but hated the microscopic booklets that came with CDs. It’s time to bring back good liner notes with lyrics and band/fan info in elegantly designed Acrobat Reader files that size to the computer screen. Maybe music lovers don’t buy albums because they aren’t the art form they used to be. I know aficionados that still buy vinyl records because they miss the whole experience that was once part of buying an album.
Shopping and Listening
Hanging out in records stores used to a great way to waste time and even a prime activity for dates. No wonder sales are down. Without the word-of-mouth recommendations gained from social record buying there’s not a lot of incentive to shop for music like there used to be. See my post, “Why Has Listening to Music Become as Solitary as Masturbation?“ Record companies need to invent software for FaceBook that puts people together for song listening parties.
Also, online record stores like iTunes, Rhapsody and Amazon need to create a virtual store experience that enhances the shopping experience beyond searching a database for new music. One feature I would like to see is accurate discographies that list which songs are in print and are for sale and which are out of print. There’s no reason in our digital universe that all an artist’s work should not stay in print.
In the old days people stored their albums in wooden crates that made it easy to flip through the LPs one by one and easily see the covers. When you met a new friend you’d go through their LPs to see what kind of person they were. An album collection, with their beautiful artistic covers, were as revealing as a deck of Tarot cards laid out. Kids today can give each other their whole collections, but what good is that? Stolen music is indiscriminate. And long iTunes Library lists are just rows and rows of black and white words. No personality. Record companies should allow music fans to decorate their blogs with songs, cover art and lyrics.
The downside of digital music is ownership. Protecting your digital collection is going to be a hassle. Sharing is iffy. Selling used albums on eBay will be weird. Handing down your fabulous collection to your children probably won’t happen.
Personally, I think MP3s are not the ultimate format for music, and even wrote my opinions in “Are MP3s at the End of Their Lifecycle?” My prediction, people are going to discover that owning invisible intangible objects will be a pain, lacking in style and glamour.
Unless music is freely traded, it’s going to be hard for songs to become hits. If songs are freely traded, nobody will want to buy them. Thus, the value of subscription music.
Playlists will be the sharing medium of the future. Everyone will be their own DJ – creating musical mood experiences, showing off talents for discovery, and defining identity. Send your favorite playlist creations out to your friends, and if they have a subscription to the songs, they will play. Or build blog pages and web sites around playlists, so when surfers drop by that are subscribers, they will have instant background music.
I expect music to start disappearing from Targets and Walmarts. Not everyone has a MP3 player yet, but the tsunami is bearing down on us. It will be interesting to see what an all digital music world will be like. Won’t it be strange to live in a world and never to see a LP or CD?