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CDs vs Downloads Survey

April 21, 2024

Good morning, Y'all!
I've spoken to a couple of shoppers this week who asked about audio CDs for books they had purchased. In both cases, the artists had discontinued the CDs that used to be included with the books, and had switched to downloadable audio files. There are pros and cons to having downloadable audio versus including a CD (or two) with each book.

Pros for Downloadable Audio:
1) Cost - CDs are, with the envelope, around $1 each in quantity, $2 each in more modest quantities. This is a lot of money to waste on manufacturing if the CD has limited appeal.2) Environment - Making the CD, packaging the CD, shipping the CD - small amounts of plastic, small amounts of paper, small amounts of fuel. Times hundreds/thousands of CDs that some of the artists sold (at the peak of CDs) each year. It adds up.3) Quality - You can't scratch up the audio files if they're on your computer or phone (CD's scratch and quit working). The files never wear out with age.
4) Convenience - A lot of us don't have a CD player in every room of the house any more. Even DVD/Blu-Ray players (which will generally play audio CDs) are getting harder to find. But most of us carry a phone or tablet around and have access to the digital audio files wherever we are.

Pros for Physical CDs:
1) Cost - CD's cost a dollar or two, but to play downloadable audio files, you need a phone, tablet, or computer. The phone/tablet/computer can do a LOT of other things, but the initial cost to play an audio file is quite a bit higher than a portable CD player is.2) Environment - You have to maintain a digital device, and that means electricity. And replacing it periodically, as it becomes unusable due to damage, wear, or age.3) Quality - A CD is uncompressed 44.1 kHz, a FAR higher audio quality than even the best MP3 file. But for those of us with aging ears, it is a pretty subtle difference, especially when played on anything but a good set of hi-fi speakers hooked to the living room stereo system.4) Convenience - It is fast and easy to put a CD into a CD player. No messing with software, or with menus. 
I'd call it a wash on cost. A couple of dollars - more or less - for the amazing books that our artists create probably doesn't matter that much. Same for the environment - benefits to either argument, but not huge in either direction. Quality - CDs win, but most of us don't/can't hear the difference. Convenience? I really like downloadable audio files. I converted my personal CDs into computer formats years ago and can play any of my audio files from anywhere I am - home, car, work.  So for me, downloadable audio wins. Which format do you prefer, and why? Let me know over the next few days (reply to this email) and I'll compile the results for next week's newsletter.
Thanks for reading, Y'all - Have a great weekend!Richard Ash, luthier-who's-not-a-technophile-but-uses-the-modern-electronics-anyway
P.S. Newsletters like this one USED to be printed on paper, and mailed - we've all come to expect ephemeral media like this to be delivered electronically these days.