This question has a lot to do with how you consume and access your music on a daily basis. Do you still listen to CDs or Vinyl, or do you usually use your PC with thousands of MP3 at home and your iPod while on the street?
It’s not hard to see why increasingly the latter is the case. The massive storage capacity (in terms of tracks relative to an audio CD) and sheer portability of most of the today’s mp3 players gives you a pocket music library. Add to that, the ability to instantly access new music on a track-by-track or album basis and you’ve got a pretty compelling case for the online distribution model.
Audio quality was one of the big advantages of Audio CDs. But while the emerging online standard of DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) 320kbps mp3 may be way off audiophile standards, for 99% of us, 99% of the time, it does the job just fine. What reality shows right now is that, consumers will pick convenience over quality and the high-street music retailers are feeling this pinch.
Now, in terms of a long-term trajectory, music’s future seems to be in non-physical formats.
Some thought that blu-ray would replace Audio CD as the last attempt to new physical audio format. MiniDisc, well, had a quick death. Today we are growing to accept that all our information, entertainment and communications comes piped through devices connected to the internet.
But hey, this is not all good news for you and only bad news for disc manufacturers and record stores! With falling physical ownership of content, we’re also seeing falling permanent ownership of content. The future may show us a total different model on how we access the music we want to listen. In the near future, the music or film you just paid to download isn’t really in your possession, your access to it controlled by a time-limited rental or subscription model, both of which can expire may be the near future reality.
The subscription model certainly has much in its favor, offering all-you-can-eat options and giving you instant access to a vast music library. It makes exploring new music and new artists risk-free, and you’ll always have the latest chart topper at your fingertips. It offers the ultimate convenience and if it catches on could even substantially reduce music piracy. Think of it as like a music extra on your internet access, some industry watchers are even suggesting that that’s what it could become with ISPs as the guardians of access to online media.
Although, for the time being, local storage and download reflects the present reality, it’s not impossible to imagine a future where all our media lives on central media servers and is streamed rather than accessed locally. We already entrust much of our email, photos and other documents to ‘the cloud’, so why not music too?
Clearly, on my point of view, Audio CD and Vinyl won’t disappear any time soon, people are still buying it#, if mostly to rip the albums to their computer. But we should still spare a thought for what will follow and try to avoid the erosion of our control over the content we pay for.