Eliot Van Buskirk says DVDs can save the music industry:
- There’s no arguing that CD sales are down this year, but what no one can agree on is the underlying cause behind the slump. The RIAA points to Internet piracy, of course, citing studies that show CD purchases are lower among file sharers. (On the other hand, file-sharing companies deny this and point to studies that prove the opposite.) But a more measured analysis reveals a factor that’s as simple as it is obvious: people are buying fewer CDs because they’re buying more DVDs. At many large chains, DVDs can be purchased for $10 each–a pretty amazing value considering that a DVD contains a movie, a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and all kinds of extra features. Meanwhile, a $17.99 CD contains only about 50 minutes of stereo audio. DVDs are clearly a better deal.
….I have a radical idea that could help the music industry take a much-needed leap into the future–if it has the courage. The record labels should cease trying to safeguard unprotected CDs and desist the fight against MP3 trading. The future of music retail lies in the home theater, and that’s where the record companies need to double down. This became obvious to me as I listened to/watched the Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around the World DVD. The disc features the same videos shown on the backdrop of the band’s last tour, along with every track on the album in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. In addition, Rings Around the World contains 16 bonus remixes, as well as songs not on the current album. The price for this bevy of bodacious content? According to the DVD price-comparison service on CNET’s own mySimon, it costs $21.28 new with shipping and handling. In contrast, the same songs on a CD runs from $12 to $17.
Music is already an increasingly visual medium, as is evidenced by the success of MTV’s pay-per-view concerts and the pop stardom of teen siren Christina Aguilera. It makes sense for labels to continue this trend, offering DVDs with surround sound, live footage, videos, or even still images to display on televisions while home-theater systems belt out pristine, 24-bit, 96KHz digital audio.
Unlike CDs, the vast majority of DVDs already feature content protection (CSS or Macrovision) that cannot be disabled without the ripper committing a felony. But even if I were able to rip my Super Furry Animals DVD without getting arrested, where would I play it? You can’t listen to 5.1 audio on a pair of headphones, and only Windows Media Player with a rare filter installed can play ripped 5.1 audio on a computer. Even if I shared the ripped audio files on a P2P network, almost no one would be able to download and play them successfully.
The record labels should continue to sell CDs the way that they sell other outdated formats, such as the cassette tape. But they should also lower their resistance to the sharing of MP3s and fight only illegitimate, for-profit piracy rings. The labels should also allow file-sharing networks to pay a nominal fee to copyright holders for the privilege of running P2P networks. Then, the companies should concentrate their efforts on DVD. No matter how good my Super Furry Animals MP3s are, I would still pay for a DVD that offers more, higher-quality content for my buck.