Like most of the record business, classical music is having a tough time finding a new audience in the digital download world. And in line with the recent moves by record labels to market popular music online, classical music fans in the UK will soon have another bona fide incentive for locating and legally purchasing works via the Internet.
Once again, audiophiles can help themselves and others at the same time by participating in The Cable Company's seventh annual "Summer Against Hunger" campaign. The Cable Company, and several suppliers (listed below) have set up a program by which up to 10% of the Cable Company's August sales are donated to CARE and the International Rescue Committee, with contributions to be used to assist the worldwide disaster relief efforts of those humanitarian organizations.
It's a sobering thought: it was the computer manufacturers and software developers, not the consumer electronics industry, who enabled the biggest audio format since the CD to become popular. The format, which hasn't done much to impress audiophiles, but has greatly enhanced the portability of music, is MP3 and CE manufacturers are only now trying to catch up with products that take advantage of its widespread use.
Love it or hate it, MP3 users are a huge new market, as yet untapped by the music industry. Portable digital compressed-audio players, whether employing Flash memory or compact hard drives à la Apple's iPod, are estimated to begin reaching critical-mass sales numbers around 2006, with an installed base of 24 million units by 2007. Most observers agree that this dramatic growth has been driven, in large part, by the vast quantity of no-fee music that is available in the format, as well as the players' ease of use and flexibility.
Historically, radio stations have only partially cooperated with record label attempts to control when and where an important new record is first aired. It's not unusual for a new album or single to be "embargoed" until a specific date by the labels, with stations often competing with each other to find ways to get around this restriction and be first to air a hot new song.
As some readers may suspect, more music is heard in the automobile than in the home. Taking a clue from this trend, many high-end audio companies are finding their way into your car, and factory installed systems are getting better and better. Examples include the Mark Levinson audio system found in cars from Lexus, the debut of Lexicon's L7 surround system in a BMW at the 2002 CES, Linn's partnership with Aston Martin, Harman's partnership with Mercedes Benz, and the Dynaudio/Dolby Surround systems found in several of Volvo's cars.
There may be thousands of audio manufacturers around the world, but there are only a handful of ways for them to sell their products. These include your traditional bricks-and-mortar dealer network (everything from small audio boutiques to mass-market chains), the online or mail order retailer, direct sales via the Web or catalog, or direct sales via a company store.
As almost any Stereophile reader could tell you, if the record labels want to stem the rushing tide of big-time music piracy, they should consider starting with lower CD prices at retail. In other words, lessen the incentives that drive the illicit music market, and eliminate a sizable percentage of the problem overnight.
We've learned to pretty much ignore consumer electronics company announcements for their latest CD and DVD players/burners. The usual "breakthrough" turns out to be yet another faster record/playback speed bump, or a longer list of compatible formats (Panasonic's latest recorder, announced last week, can handle—take a deep breath—DVD-R, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, and CD-ROM discs).
They have become the companies music fans around the world love to hate. But to their stockholders, the businesses developing CD-restriction technologies are a promising new technology niche for investing. SunnComm is one of these new companies dedicated to finding means to restrict the ways consumers can use compact discs, and last week they used their annual stockholder meeting as an opportunity to announce their latest copy-protection product.