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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is It Time to Let the CD Die?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 6:00 AM


A few weeks ago, we advocated for the final, much-needed death of the cassette tape. Now, it seems, we're being asked a tough follow-up question. A Ford spokesperson told AM-Online last week that "the in-car CD player -- much like pay telephones -- is destined to fade away in the face of exciting new technology."

So what she's really saying is that the CD is dead -- or at least it will be soon. Should we let it go quietly into the night?

This question is a tough one to answer.In a very real sense, CDs are the last holdout of the physical embodiment of music, the last big-time format we can still turn in our hands and drool over.

Of course, some will argue that CDs aren't nearly as "physical" or as "real" as vinyl, and they might be right. Despite its resurgence, though, vinyl is still a minuscule player in the music market. The CD is the only widespread physical format between us and an all-digital landscape (except for USB drives, which seem about as authentically physical as iPods). Are we ready to let CDs go and finally submerge ourselves completely in a world of digital music?

What makes this easier is that the CD was never a good format to begin with. They're certainly not worth holding onto as the world changes around them, for a few reasons:

They skip. (If you don't believe us, put an old one in your car and drive around a city with as many potholes as this one.)

They're small -- big enough for some form of album art, but without enough real estate for anything masterful (like the Sgt. Pepper cover, which is impossible to scrutinize on a CD jacket) or subtle (like the White Album cover, which just feels stupid and bland when it's tiny).

They stop working over time (like records, but without the endearing hisses and crackles).

You have to save their contents on your computer as digital files, since computers are essentially the only CD players anyone owns anymore -- at least outside of our cars.

It's true: There's something incredibly important about music that with a physical dimension. It helps us remember that someone made the music with love and care. The transition of music to the digital era has been painful, with file-sharing turning artists against the fans who adore them and sales shrinking at alarming rates.

Yet the CD is an unfortunate format, not one we'd choose to be the last line of defense against an all-digital world. Ford may be the first to abandon it publicly, but it's only a matter of time before the rest of us do the same.



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