CDs and DVDs: Apples and Kumquats

Alan Wexelblat at Copyfight posted “Death of the CD?” on April 9. He raises a question I’ve thought about, albeit not in those terms, as follows (Yes, Copyfight operates under a Creative Commons license, so this full quotation is legal):

I’m traveling this week back and forth to Portland. In the airports are a series of shops advertising “$20/2.” Reading the fine print shows that you can buy two DVDs or CDs for USD 20. This is, in my mind, a sign of the impending death of the CD.

Look at the difference: with the CD you get some music tracks, maybe some liner notes if you’re lucky, and… um, well, that’s about it.

Or, for the same $10 you can get a couple hours of video, plus commentary, alternate tracks, possibly multiple languages, maybe a behind-the-scenes or other feature. If you’re really jonesing for music you can buy concert DVDs of the same pop stars (these shops have tiny inventory – it’s all hit-oriented material). The concerts cover the new songs, and you get to watch your idol perform them (or lip-synch) and get a backstage view or maybe a bonus track with an interview or tourbus footage.

Explain to me again why you’d buy a CD?

I was going to post some of the answers here–but it turns out that comments on the post cover the essential points, e.g.:

  • CDs are malleable–any CD with the “Compact Disc Audio Disc” imprint must not have copy protection (according to Philips), so can be ripped to MP3 or a lossless codec, have tracks combined with other tracks to make custom CD-Rs, have tracks downloaded to portable players, etc., etc. You can’t do anything with the music on a music DVD except listen to it on a DVD player (unless you’re a hacker and don’t mind violating DMCA).
  • CDs offer reasonably full fidelity (some audiophiles will claim that they’re not as good as they should be, but)…as opposed to the compromised sound offered on downloads of any sort.
  • Most important: We (many of us) listen to certain songs or pieces of music hundreds, maybe thousands of times; almost nobody other than a projectionist will watch a movie more than a few times (possibly excepting some kid’s movies).

Actually, CDs priced equally to DVDs that have been out for a year or more is pretty good pricing for the CDs. You can readily buy Hollywood releases for $10 or $7.50 after the studios have sold as many copies for $20 as they think they’re going to–while most record companies waitt many years to rerelease an album for much less than $10 to $12, if they ever do.

The medium-to-medium comparison just doesn’t work: DVDs and CDs serve fundamentally different purposes.

4 Responses to “CDs and DVDs: Apples and Kumquats”

  1. Check out the post by Mark Cuban:

    The countdown for the extinction of CDs is about to begin (

  2. Absolutely right-on. Our home collection has close to 5,000 CDs, but only about 300 DVDs. Why? Not because we like music more than movies, but precisely because of the third point you mention–we will listen to the CDs over and over and over, while each DVD gets maybe 2 or 3 viewings.

    And why would I buy the CD instead of just the MP3s? After all, I have a nice MP3 player with a speakered-docking station… Because CDs have more than just the music. The liner notes that Alan Wexelblat claims are so worthless are the very things that make me buy the CD. I want to get the whole package–artwork, tracks in the order the artist intended them, the lyrics, etc. CDs may turn into something else someday soon (media chips, for example, like those used for digital cameras), but I have to imagine that people will always want the extra bits that the liner notes offer.

  3. Ted Morris says:

    Regarding Mark’s page that Lorcan mentions: I have yet to figure out how my kids have TIME enough to be ripping their CD music to MP3 or to be seeking out and downloading music from elsewhere–I have a collection of music on tape; for some of the “albums” I have subsequently bought CD versions, for others not; some of my collection I have acquired more recently directly on CD. I have neither the time to watch DVD performances of concerts (although I wish I did) nor time to transfer my reel-to-reel tapes (probably suffering horribly from print-through by now) or my cassettes (no 8-tracks, though!) to CD or other digitized format. I’m too busy with the other parts of my life to be constantly micromanaging my audio collection for the latest and greatest players.

    I can’t dispute that MP3 players are dandy enough for what they’re intended for by most folks. I would also not dispute that there’s a great deal of value-added to DVD performance releases over their audio-only counterparts. But I–and I suspect many folks–don’t have need of those value-added features. So I can’t see “the demise of CDs” happening until at least a lot more of us middle-agers and middle-achievers have died off…

  4. The CD industry needs to be overhauled. It’s common knowledge that a music cassette tape is more expensive to make than a music CD, yet cassette tape prices went down while CD prices continue to increase.

    And this may muddy the waters, but music clubs are able to sell CD’s for $6 or less. The muddying part is that they do not pay full royalties to the artists, but how is it they can sell CD’s for so little while I still have to pay $16 at any other commericial outlet? The music industry screamed that Napster and so on was stealing money from them, while you could say the industry is stealing money themselves.