User:ThomasW/Notes How the compact disc lost its shine

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Lynskey, Lorian (2015) How the compact disc lost its shine, The Guardian.com [Online] Available: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/28/how-the-compact-disc-lost-its-shine?CMP=fb_gu/ (01.06.2015)


As Greg Milner writes in his book Perfecting Sound Forever, the compact disc became “the fastest-growing home entertainment product in history”. CD sales overtook vinyl in 1988 and cassettes in 1991.

Norio Ohga insisted that the disc should have enough space for the longest recorded performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, his wife’s favourite piece of music, but Immink suspects that is a myth. There were so many technical and financial considerations that it’s unlikely such a key decision came down to one woman’s love of Beethoven.

The CD was introduced to the British public in a 1981 episode of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, in which Kieran Prendeville mauled a test disc of the Bee Gees’ Living Eyes to demonstrate the format’s alleged indestructibility. It caught the public imagination, but Immink found the claim puzzling and embarrassing because it was clearly untrue. “We should not put emphasis on the fact it will last for ever because it will not last for ever,” he says. “We should put emphasis on the quality of sound and ease of handling.” (Paul McCartney recently recalled the first time George Martin showed him a CD. “George said, ‘This will change the world.’ He told us it was indestructible, you can’t smash it. Look! And – whack – it broke in half.”

There were many black-disc lovers who didn’t want to change and said: ‘We don’t see why we have to go digital

CBS released the world’s first commercially available CD, a reissue of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, in Japan in October 1982.

Labels thought it was an audiophile-only product that was going to sell primarily to classical music buyers. They did not see it as a mass-market format.”

The CD came to symbolise the so-called yuppie generation, representing new material success and aspiration. If you owned a CD player it showed you were upwardly mobile. Its significance seemed to go beyond music to a lifestyle statement.”

“Cassettes were completely disposable. When CD came along and said this will last you a lifetime,customers really did lap it up. It felt new, it felt shiny, it felt exciting.”

If you read corporate literature about forward-facing risks to the business in the late 90s, this is one of the top things they’re talking about, if not the top. And the impact was real. If bootleg discs flood the market they kill sales, no question about it.” Bootleg CDs were a danger the industry could get its head around – you could hold one in your hand. What it couldn’t comprehend was the threat of the MP3: the idea that music could transcend physical formats.

“My biggest bugbear about this industry is that they all think short-term,” says Webster. “Nobody ever thinks long-term. All these executives were sitting there being paid huge bonuses on increased profits and they didn’t care. I don’t think anyone saw it coming. I remember the production guy at Virgin saying, ‘In a few years, you’re going to be able to carry all the music you want around on something the size of a credit card.’ And we all laughed. Don’t be ridiculous! How can you do that?”

“Once you had the iPod, the CD was an inferior good. It could get cracked or lost, whereas MP3 files lasted.” Not pure, not perfect, but sound for ever.

“It’s dying. It will go obsolete like the floppy disc did. It just always takes a little more time than you’d think.”