Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dear record companies, what the fuck

Today I have chosen to complain about CDs. Awful stupid record companies who don't care about music at all are ruining music, especially CDs, for everyone. So maybe now you're thinking "Well, what's wrong with CDs?" If you are thinking that, you're pretty ignorant. You probably shop at Hollister.
Everything is wrong with CDs. This really stood out to me the other day when I bought a Smash Mouth CD at FYE the other day. It's used, cost $4, and is almost in new condition. That was when it occurred to me that $4 is how much a CD should cost. Alright, maybe a little more, but not much more than that. CDs cost way too much today. I'm seeing some go as far as $19. This would be OK if they were loaded with tracks or something, but they're not. They aren't even always new or anything special, they're just that much because they want to charge that much. In fact, the "low" $12 is still kind of expensive. While fitting a machine with the parts to make a specific CD can be somewhat costly, pressing them can't cost much. Think about it, about $30 buys you a stack of 100 rewritable CDs (sometimes it costs more, sometimes less, but it's usually around 30). That's ¢3 per disc. On I found a 100 pack for $38*, which is 38 cents per disc. So it's a bit more than 3 cents per disc, but still definitely not a lot. Then I found a 50 pack of jewel CD cases for $28, which is ¢56 per case. That comes out to ¢96 for every boxed disc. Still not a dollar. And of course these blank discs and cases had extra money tacked on for the manufacturer. If I had the manufacturing costs it'd be even less. So where does all the other money come from? Well, they need to have money to run the machines that make the discs and write to them, to make the parts that go in the machines that make each disc the specific disc that it is, and they need to pay workers. So we add to the bare cost of about ¢96 per disc the cost of all that. I'm going to assume just a few dollars, lets up it to $3.96. Doesn't sound like much, but since big record companies are selling millions of CDs each day, it sorta adds up. That'll easily pay for everything involving manufacturing.
Then how about some money for the artist. One more dollar will make the artist rich as long as it's one of those awful horrible bad ones that everyone likes because they've been pressured into liking it. In fact, it'll make any moderately popular artist rich. One dollar is plenty. Then how about some money for the record company. Two dollars, since they're greedy like that and they gotta pay all their marketing people who make the world think that their most popular yet worst artist are good. That brings us to $7 after rounding up from the 96 cents. OK so I was wrong about $4 earlier, but $7 is still not a bad price. However, I do think the record company and artist could live with a little less money.
If you've ever walked into a CD store though, you know that CDs do not cost $7. They cost $7 in heaven maybe. Where's all the money going? Right to the greedy record company and artist. Even if the artist doesn't want to charge a lot, the record company does, and so they do. They're charging you as much as $19-22 (come to think of it, sometimes they do hit 22) now for a CD that costs around $4 for supplies and manufacturing. They don't know what makes it worth that much any better than you do, they just want money. If you look you can still find some CDs that are somewhat less, ones from less rich record companies who can't afford to charge as much for a few pieces of plastic, one CD, and a few pieces of paper.
Then there's special edition type things. These tend to include a second disc and maybe some more bonus material such as album art. OK, so that's ¢38 cents for the 2nd disc, a few more for the bigger case to hold both discs, and almost nothing for the extra album art. Why does it cost $28? There is no logical explanation, it costs so little extra to make one of these that they could leave the price the same as a regular album and they'd take just about no hit from it. The problem is that they are greedy bastards.
And now what's with the lower quality of CD cases? I'm not talking flimsier plastic or anything like that. The other day when I was at a CD store I was flipping through some Parliament CDs (don't criticize me for not looking for vinyl, my record player doesn't work right) and I saw something awful. It was either styrofoam or that paper material they use to make egg cartons (pretty sure it was styrofoam) as the part that holds the CD, wrapped in thin cardboard (so you could slide out the styrofoam part, shrinkwrapped. It was the most half assed, budget cutty thing I have ever seen. Seriously, what the fuck was that? Not only was it clearly just to spend less money on a better case, but it would be much easier to destroy than a plastic CD case. Think about it. It could get squished in a stack of CDs or an overstuffed CD shelf and be forever disfigured, it could bend and stay that way forever (as well as lose it's ability to hold the CD), there's just so many things that could go wrong with something like that. 
Another thing I have problems with is the way stores package the CDs. They seriously need to stop putting price tags on the actual case. Especially since they usually wrap them in plastic after that. After you peel them off you have sticker residue (or worse, the sticker falls apart and then you have some paper stuck to the case that never goes away and turns into a sticky goopymess that attracts dust and hair after a few years that still doesn't go away), or you could leave them on and have an unsightly price tag on your case. Put the fucking sticker on the plastic or price everything at a fair $6 or $7 so the cashier can always know how much something is.
I also don't like those stickers that they put along the top of the CD. They're annoying to remove since they like to shred when you peel them off, then they leave some residue that attracts hair and dust. Plus, if you've got any CDs in your collection with cases made of cardboard, this can stick to that, and if that happens long enough, it can tear the cardboard. 
Speaking of cardboard cases, it's horrible when stores put stickers on them. Cardboard cases are most often used for singles, but I have seen them for full albums (my The Day I Turned to Glass from Honeycut is made of cardboard). I don't really have anything against cardboard cases, because they pose as no problem when you take care of them right. But if you buy one with a sticker on it, it's already ruined. The sticker is going to tear it up, or you can leave it on and naturally have it look awful. This is why it's good to always buy them new online.
If vinyl were easier, I'd switch mostly over. I buy a lot of CDs that also have vinyl releases, and vinyl releases tend to sell used for around $1. Awesome. Thing is, records are easier to screw up than CDs, they require more care, they aren't as convenient, and they're much less easy to put on your iPod. I do like vinyl though, and when I have a good sound system and more money, I am going to get a nice record player and start collecting. New vinyl still costs about as much as new CDs though.
So what can you do to boycott CDs? Not much, mostly just pirate/file share. I don't do that though, for numerous reasons. In fact, I still buy CDs. This is why I don't pirate/share though:

- If it's an artist I like, I still want to support them. Unfortunately though, buying a CD (or using a service like iTunes, which is slightly better, but not by a ton) is just about the only way to do that.

- File sharing and pirating is convenient and free, except you usually get the wrong songnames/artists, so in an automatically organizing system like the iPod, you could have 20 songs from one artist and they'd all display under different artists. On the iPod, all the songs from an artist need to have the artist's name typed, capitalized, and punctuated the same way, or it displays as different artists.

- File sharing and pirating almost never gives you good sound quality, and you still don't get the 1444 kbps of a CD for listening on very high end systems (where digitally encoded music vs better digitally encoded music shows more of a difference). Some people don't mind that, I do.

- I also won't switch to buying on iTunes. I do use iTunes, and while albums costing less money (usually) are pretty tempting, if I'm going to buy an album I want a hard copy. A hard copy can be played on a separate stereo without burning, there's no DRM bothering me, and while some iTunes songs come in a pretty nice 256 kbps (that's the iTunes Plus songs), others come in a measly 128kbps. 256 is pretty nice, but iTunes will never give the 1444 kbps of a CD. I do use it if I want just one or two songs from an album though, since it saves me money and space on my CD case.

To conclude (Jeez this was long), CDs are great. Record companies are just ruining them.
Oh, and before I finish this post, why isn't SACD taking off? It's so perfect. Most SACDs can still be read on an ordinary CD player, but SACDs have better quality on an SACD player. It's the perfect successor (so fuck DVD audio) and will apparently sound better on a moderate system (I confess I still haven't used it myself). The thing is, no CD stores sell them, and they just don't advertise it at all. There's also no SACD drives for your computer (to my knowledge), so us computer listeners can't get SACD joy on our computers. So yeah, let's see more SACD.



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