Is the CD Dead?

On October 27, MarketWatch reported that EMI Music's chairman and CEO, Alain Levy, told an audience, "The CD as it is right now is dead." Speaking at the London Business School, Levy said that 60% of consumers rip CDs into their home computers in order to listen to them on digital music players.

Don't count out physical media entirely, Levy admonished listeners. "You're not going to offer your mother-in-law iTunes downloads for Christmas, but we have to be much more innovative in the way we sell physical content. . . . By the beginning of next year, none of our content will come without any additional material."

Hmmm, once again we have the spectacle of a major music mogul confessing that he doesn't have a clue what his customers want. Where have we heard that one before? Oh yes, in all of the analyses of why Tower Records folded. Oh yes, and in just about every article about the death of the record industry.

Here's what I think the record labels missed: According to their own statistics, more than half of their customers want to use music when, where, and how they want to. I personally want the highest-quality sound I can get in my living room, but I also want my music in the gym, on the road, and in my office. We music lovers get cranky when we can't transfer the music we bought from one venue to another—and Mr. Record Company Mogul, you won't like it if we get angry. If 60% of the recordings that EMI sells are transferred to digital devices, perhaps EMI should be considering ways of making that cross-platform (and legal) transfer simpler?

Interestingly enough, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which bills itself as "the UK’s leading progressive think tank, producing cutting edge research and innovative policy ideas for a just, democratic and sustainable world," agrees. A recent report, "Public Innovation: Intellectual property in a digital age", calls for a "private right to copy," arguing that making copies of CDs and DVDs for personal use should not be considered a crime.

The report was issued to contribute to the discussion of the UK's intellectual property laws, which BBC News reports, are currently being reviewed by the government. IPPR deputy director Dr. Ian Kearns said, "When it comes to protecting the interests of copyright holders, the emphasis the music industry has put on tackling illegal distribution and not prosecuting for personal copying, is right. But it is not the music industry's job to decide what rights consumers have; that is the job of government."

The IPPR report also examines digital rights management technologies and suggests that DRM works against institutions such as the British Library, which is charged with "being the collective memory of the nation, [which means] increasingly that it has to archive digital content." The problem with DRM, the study says, is that accessibility issues occur that aren't always obvious, and then information is irretrievable.

The IPPR report also calls for the government to resist extending the copyright on recorded music beyond 50 years.