March 20, 2009

I will stop buying CDs...

...soon. Millions of consumers are already asking ‘Why would I get up from my computer, go down to a (musically speaking) uncaring Best Buy(US)/ Tesco(UK) store to find they don’t stock the album I want, and I can’t listen to anything else that I want to try, when instead I can search, try and download a great album online within minutes?’. Why indeed, hence the insane uptake to digital downloads and the equally insane decline in CD sales. At the end of the day, for the majority, convenience wins.

I’ve continued to buy CDs instead of individual downloads because I love holding the album in my hand and reading the inlay while I listen to it for the first time, and it pretty much costs about the same.

But I can see the day approaching when I stop buying CDs. My love of music is stronger than ever, but my physical purchases have already decreased and I have also cutback on downloading tracks as the option to stream has become more widely available and more convenient for me. The reason I would stop buying CDs altogether is not that I want my entire music collection based on my mobile device / laptop (although my life is becoming evermore online and technology based), but I will stop buying them when the ‘music like water’ concept really takes off and a wealth of music from major labels and independents is available to me anytime anywhere.

David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard talked about it in 2005. Jim Griffin talked bout it with Warner in 2008. I really hope that someday soon we will see something like this become a reality. I love CDs and the aspect of buying a physical product, and I’m sure I will continue to on special occasions (Michael Jackson boxsets?) or for gifts for other people (nothing says ‘I love you’ like an online subscription receipt, right?), but as someone who consumes music and is often consumed by it, how could I resist...?

I see this type of consumption as being extremely popular with general music fans, as the appeal of being able to listen to all the music they already know and love is a great one, and they can then also experiment a little with new artists without the risk of purchasing a disappointing album and feeling cheated. I see most people struggling with the ‘music like water’ comparison as it sounds a little too futuristic or idealistic, but it would be easy for the average consumer to adapt to this situation if they simply compare it to their internet, cable or mobile phone packages, most of which offer a similar ‘unlimited access’ usage for a set monthly fee.

The big convenience difference between an ‘Ad-supported Streaming Model’ and the ‘Utility Model’ is that you are required to be online to stream music, whereas once you download music via the ‘Utility” service you are free to play it anywhere and on a variety of formats and devices.

There is also a licensing issue that differs the ‘Utility Model’ from physical and digital purchases, and that is that some people will want the freedom to burn a copy to a blank CD and play their favourite music in their car, or give a copy to their friends. This is something that is technically illegal to do from physical products, but with the ‘Utility’ service, the current relative copyright laws would be suspended in exchange for a licensing fee, paid by the ‘Music Utility Bill’. With this in place, recommendations and discovery can flourish, having a huge impact on the way music is uncovered and shared, creating and aiding successful music careers. Something that surely all artists and writers can be excited about is the opportunity to be known and appreciated to a wider audience and being financially compensated via the licensing fees.

For me, this is also one of the biggest reasons why I cannot wait for the ‘music like water’ train of thought to catch on; a digital world where sharing music can be encouraged instead of penalised, and is truly beneficial to both fans and artists alike.

Lee Jarvis.

(photo credit JaulaDeArdilla)

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