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Music Feature: Saving the CD: A Dying Medium


As someone who buys a lot of CDs I've been facing a bit of an issue recently: they are very difficult to actually get hold of. It seems just as the Vinyl and Cassettes that have gone before it, the CD is becoming a niche product in the world of iTunes and instant downloads.

Whilst of course iTunes has its considerable advantages like automatic downloading upon release, high audio quality, the access to thousands of tracks without having to search for discs, and its lack of storage space, I hate the impersonal feel that it has given music collections. Of course if something is limited to download only, I'll do it - even this caveman knows that he's going to have to download RuPaul's Born Naked on Monday as there is no physical release. However, that shouldn't stop me longing for those romantic days when I would buy a CD and admire the cover art, read through the sleeve notes, and then ultimately play it in the house or the car for weeks (Aphrodite and MDNA haven't left my car in years - well that's a lie, I take them out when the car goes in for repair - I don't want these gruff oily-fingered mechanics touching my Kylie or Madge). However, it seems that I am in a growing minority - but as long as psychical copies are made, I am going to continue buying them - regardless of how difficult it is becoming.

The full year of 2013 saw CD sales decline 14.5% to 165.4 million units, down from 193.4 million in the prior year - a truly rapid decline. The mass closure of stores like HMV is likely to see that dip even further in the coming year. This means that I now dread the day that I cannot nosily flick through another person's CD collection and make bitchy comments about their taste ie. "Imagine not having any La Toya Jackson - do you even listen to trash pop?" or embarrassingly uncovering a Shania Twain CD in a manly friend's room to be met with "It's not mine, it was my Mums". No one should be deprived of the joy of inflicting that embarrassment or shame on their friends.

Album art like this wasn't meant to be
stored on a computer.
My first port of call was always Sainsbury's Entertainment who were always surprisingly cheap for deluxe editions (Both deluxe versions of Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience went for £9.99, as did the likes of  the deluxe edition of Miley Cyrus's Bangerz) - as well as the added bonus of always delivering on the release date - providing the postman doesn't steal your goodies. However, last November Sainsbury's announced plans to stop selling physical products online (DVDs and Blu-Rays also included) in their switch to solely selling digital products. It appears Sainsbury's was mainly following suit of other online retailers who appear to have ditched CDs completely - like Zavvi (remember those hideous green things that Virgin Megastores were reborn as?).  

There are a few limited retailers left like Hive and Base, but from what I've seen these now charge more than the average RRP for music - and personally, no one should feel the need to order from somewhere that sounds like it sells beekeeping equipment. Plus, don't get me started on HMV's "website" which now seems to think that it is a magazine.

That ultimately leaves us with a couple of options. The first of these is Amazon. There was a time when Amazon was my haven for physical music - several years ago pre-orders usually arrived several days before release dates (Monday releases would regularly appear on Fridays and Saturdays - imagine that, didn't that feel naughty), but now the site is a shadow of its former self. Whilst the selection of choices is still excellent, postage charges on orders under ten pounds - very unfortunate considering that the average CD is now conveniently priced at about £9.99 (you would almost think it was planned) - a bit off considering the site's huge tax breaks. If these orders were arriving on-time, perhaps it would not be such an issue - but the average pre-order arrives three to four days after release in my experience. This wait can be an agonising experience for someone like me who thrives on the excitement of counting down until an album's release date.

Pharrell's G I R L is currently going
for £7.99 on WowHD 
For the more patient among us there is WowHD which is ultimately the best option in my book. The prices are incredibly low - standard and deluxe new releases usually sit between £7.99 and £8.99 (Pharrell's G I R L is currently sitting at £7.99) - plus the site regularly features 10-15% off deals normally every weekend. They also supply a vast range of products - international releases, mainly US and Australian are shipped to the UK for their original release dates - for example, Dolly Parton's Blue Smoke received its Australian release this month, but doesn't hit UK stores until May - but WowHD will send you the Australian version. Imagine getting your Dolly CD four months early - I was happier than Her's Joaquin Phoenix when he realised he could bang his computer. This is excellent for hard-to-get international releases. However, it appears that these releases are shipped from Asia and can take upwards of a week to get to customers - so unlucky if you are a racist or just incredibly impatient.

Now we're ultimately left with the few places that sell physical copies in-store. Firstly there is HMV which stock a relatively large selection and is usually reasonably priced for new releases (just don't try and buy any of the ridiculously priced non-chart CDs there - who wants to pay £16.99 for an old Ringo Starr CD?). Unfortunately it isn't always convenient to get to an HMV on release day or even release week - thanks to the imminent closure of many of the stores, most would have a hard time attempting to find their nearest HMV. This only really leaves the supermarkets. ASDA, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsburys do sell physical CDs relatively cheaply but rarely stock deluxe editions or anything out of the Top 40 - so that dance remix CD of the 12 Years a Slave soundtrack you're after? No chance. But hey, if you fancy four-hundred-and-six copies of Jessie J's latest schreechfest - well you just might be in luck.

This may seem like a bit of a moan and I'm sure many of you are just screaming "Just man up and download an album" or "Be patient and wait for your orders, you impetuous slut" but part of me just doesn't want to embrace this change. I want to have something that I can touch, display, or read for my money. Something that I can proudly or not so proudly (sorry Britney Jean) display on a shelf. Whether it be CDs, Books or Films, I hope that I'm not alone in thinking this.


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