Friday, January 2, 2009

Media in 2008

Last year around this time, one of my resolutions was better tracking of the provenance of new music, specifically how much I acquired on compact disc, and how much I acquired from downloads. Glenn at Coolfer noted in a recent post an 27% industry-wide increase in digital track sales, an increase that is reflected in my own purchases in 2008. Simply in the number of albums, legal downloads outpaced CDs by a slight margin, 39% to 33%, with the remainder in bootlegs like the Avant Garde Project and various other media (SACD, mini-CD, DVD-A).

Some purists are still surprised that anybody would buy a download, but the vast majority of my listening takes place either from iTunes or its extension, the iPod, and the price point is considerably less for downloads than for CDs. Even from the music industry majors, such as DGG, the download is a couple of dollars less expensive than the same music on CD. Take into account vendors like emusic and Amazon, and the price of an album goes way down. By cost, CDs in 2008 outpaced downloads 75% to 12%. Granted, there are a couple of ways that the data is skewed. Many of my legal downloads are from netlabels (who have grown in my respect since I now have a release on one ), whose price point is zero. Netlabels and other freely available music accounted for half of my downloads this year. On the other side, although some of my CD purchases were unusually expensive, either because they were multi-disc sets (such as the Parmegiani box), special limited editions, or costly imports, these were offset with promotional CDs I received, leaving my average CD price just under $13.

My biggest regret about the increased downloads is the absence of cover art, which has dwindled to zero after the glory days of the LP. I've noted time and again the classical labels that provide the same CD artwork in PDFs, and iTunes occasionally has a digital booklet with a pop release. I wish that all labels that have a digital presence would do the same. It isn't enough simply to have the front cover, despite emusic's recent upgrade that puts it in a larger format. I realize that cover art is not viewed as often as the music is heard. Even with CDs, there is more effort to extract the booklet than simply to get the CD out of the jewel case. Perhaps this is an opportunity for labels to get more value for CD purchases, although often enough the cover art on CDs is so minimal that I kick myself for shelling out extra when I could have downloaded the same music. Hey, I'm on a budget here!

An interesting solution to the media formats is for labels to bypass the CD altogether. I recently discovered FSS, a label that provides music in vinyl and download formats, but not CDs. The most hard-core audio purists still buy vinyl, and the luxurious artwork is manipulated, even caressed, every time the music is played. If I had the space, I would love to have retained my vinyl collection when we downsized. FSS isn't the first time I've seen this combination, but I find it a creative response, unusual in the music business, and I wish them all possible success.

As for resolutions for 2009, I'd love to play more, write more, listen more, but there is nothing in that list that I don't already seek every day. 2008 was a good year musically, and I look forward to all of the new music that will come my way in 2009.

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