March 26, 2005
CD versus DVD

Atrios points to this interesting post about the differences in pricing models for CDs and DVDs, and how that may be a contributing factor for lackluster performance in CD sales.

I think there's something to that, though the many comments which point out that movie studios have already made some amount of money before the DVDs ever hit the stores, which gives them a lot more flexibility on price, are worth considering. For me, about the only time I'm willing to part with $15 for a CD is when it's by a band I've heard perform live. Anything else, I'm hitting the used rack. I've been burned too many times by disks with one or two listenable songs.

What I keep coming back to is that I get very little exposure to music that I haven't heard before but might like. The bulk of my music experience is regular commercial radio, as I commute and run errands. I don't have the time (or the inclination at present) to find and sample music on the Internet, and I work in an open area, so listening on my computer is not an option. Listening to the radio is what I've got. Search my Music archives and you'll see that I've written many times about how I feel I've been poorly served by Houston's radio choices. My thesis has always been that if my situation is at all common, commercial radio and its stagnant formats have to take a lot of the blame for poor CD sales as well. How can you sell to an audience that's completely unfamiliar with your product?

(Case in point: Don's Records in Bellaire, one of the great places to buy music on vinyl in Houston, closed its doors within months of radio station KQUE changing its big band/easy listening format from FM to AM (and then eventually yanking it altogether) because they no longer had a place to advertise. Sales plummeted almost immediately, and they couldn't stay afloat.)

I mentioned last month that I started listening to KACC, and it's been a bit of a revelation. For the first time, I've heard music by the likes of Los Lonely Boys, The Donnas, and the Dave Matthews Band on my radio. Now, I'm sure you can hear these groups on the Top 40 stations, and maybe on a station like Mix 96.5, but my point here is that people like me (and I'm sure I'm not the only one here) don't care for - and for sure aren't the target demographic for - stations like those. I like and listen to rock radio, and it's a bit appalling to realize that the only station I can pick up that plays groups like those, as well as a wide variety of local artists, is a community college station out of Alvin. Those guys have obviously sold a few CDs in their day, but how many others, with a sound that isn't really suitable for the Top 40 crowd, have missed out? Heck, how many more CDs could they have sold if they'd been reaching the wider audience that they would be appealing to?

Maybe satellite radio is part of the solution. Looking at XM's offerings, I certainly see stuff I'd want to tune into. One of these days, I guess.

I'll be interested to see how (or if) commercial radio tries to compete with satellite. Since further specialization seems futile against an opponent that can boast multiple varieties of just about every format, maybe the answer is in finding ways to fuse different types of music into something that will have broader appeal. Just don't make the mistake that erstwhile 80s station 106.9 The Point made by grafting on 70s rockers like Steve Miller to their staple of Yaz and Depeche Mode. Putting aside the fact that in the 80s, no one listened to both Steve Miller and Depeche Mode, I can count at least four other stations that already play Steve Miller (93.7 the Arrow, 97.5 KIOL, Oldies 107.5, and yes, 89.7 KACC). What kind of listener they didn't already have that they thought they were reaching out to is a mystery to me, but the report via Banjo that a station doctor is on the way to fix things isn't.

I see I've kind of wandered away from my main point. Well, it's Saturday, I'm entitled to a little rambling. Bottom line: Radio badness has an effect on CD sales. Thank you and good night.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 26, 2005 to Music | TrackBack

For finding "people who like 'X' also like..." misic, there are a few other technological options, like Audioscrobbler or 'podcasts.

Posted by: Michael on March 26, 2005 6:09 PM

In a tribute to bad 80's music and bad radio, I offer the following reminder:

The first song ever played on MTV was The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". :-)

Posted by: William Hughes on March 26, 2005 6:42 PM

Apple iTunes has a Windows version. I realized that just a few weeks ago, and strongly recommend it as a way of discovering and sampling music for cheap. I use Amazon and LastFM, and music blogs to find related music to things I like, and to surf the taste of people whose music I like.

Posted by: Adina Levin on March 27, 2005 3:47 PM

Apple iTunes has a Windows version.

Yes, but (continuing my earlier riff on how people without the latest technology are ill-served) it won't work with the second-most popular version of Windows ever released: Windows 98! (Windows XP is the most popular version.)

It WILL work with Windows ME, which is basically the same product (albeit with a deliberately crippled version of DOS that won't let you get a command prompt without loading Windows first). So why won't it work with Win98?

Real simple: the installer doesn't let it work with Win98. There's no incompatibility; the Win98 Firewire drivers needed for an iPod are on Microsoft's website. (The users at iPodLounge have figured out how to get around the version check.) But I'm guessing Microsoft wouldn't license them to Apple; they wanted to force iPod users to upgrade to the latest and "greatest" Windows instead.

The problem (besides the fact that WinXP is copy protected and so requires you to re-register if you upgrade the machine it runs on; nowadays, you're expected to throw a machine in the trash and buy a whole new one rather than upgrade) is that a computer which is powerful enough to run Win98 may well not be powerful enough to run WinXP. So unless you can get around the version check, you may be forced to buy a whole new computer with WinXP just to run iTunes!

Did I mention how much I hate Micro$oft?

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 28, 2005 5:06 PM