I read a statistic the other day – apparently in the early 1990’s, the amount of music being sold on cassette tape was 66% of the total music sales – today it’s less than 4%. Personally, I’m wondering what is up with those 4% of people. Who is it that hasn’t “upgraded” to CD yet? Some people might still have cassette decks in their cars, but how many people don’t own a boom box that can copy your CD to a 99¢ blank tape?
I actually pondered this a few weeks back when I went into a record store in the mall. For some reason it just hit me that I didn’t even know if they bothered to carry cassettes anymore, so I turned around. Yup, they still do. They only take up one portion of one wall and their availability is spotty, but you can still get cassettes of the latest albums.
Part of me misses the cassette – before I went CD in 1991, I had to buy these things as Vinyl became scarce. The cover art for albums is square, so either only a portion of the cassette cover is used for the cover art, or it has to be changed to be configured for the rectangular shape.
One of the things cassettes had going for them was the idea that they were more durable. True, throw a cassette on the pavement and the odds of it being playable afterwards are better than a CD landing face-up. However, play a CD 10,000 times and it will sound the same every time (hardware withstanding). But the thing that always got me was this – the CD is a piece of aluminum and plastic and it costs more than the cassettes – which take longer and are more expensive to make (they even have moving parts). Originally people had no problem paying more for CD’s – new technology and all. But CD’s never got cheaper (they got more expensive) and so the original premise, that CD’s would go down in price after certian R&D costs had been recouped, never materialized.
I find it interesting that vinyl is still around, sort of. I don’t know what record labels still make vinyl copies of new albums, but for even the artists that can, not all of them bother. What I do see a lot of is artists coming out with 12″ singles – full sized vinyl records with a song and maybe a few remixes of that song. DJ’s use them. I don’t pretend to understand the whole notion of DJ’ing, but other than the mere concept and looks of spinning a record, I’m not sure if there is any real advantage over just cueing up a CD.
Now I see that BMG, a mega conglomeration of record labels, is unveiling CD copy protections on all discs sold in Europe soon (Europeans are apparently less vocal about rights). If it goes well they’ll do it here (USA), too. They claim that the CD’s are redbook compliant, meaning that if your player doesn’t play them, you need to get a new player that can. This would be like tire manufacturers all deciding to make new tires a certian way and telling everyone if they don’t fit on your car anymore to buy a new car, not their problem.
The irony is that the CD is destined to go away as well. Picture if you could just buy your music as MP3’s. No more manufacturing costs, no more shipping costs, no more retailer middle man. People could buy their music online, not share it (if it’s cheap enough people will buy it), and the record companies could stand to make more money. Dvorak had a column on this.
Funny that I worry about formats and it’s all destined to turn into air eventually.