Let’s get physical: why CD is better than file


According to most forecasts from ten years ago, physical music media such as CDs and vinyls should be a relict of the past by now. Yet, despite the whole digital revolution, they are doing remarkably well in my opinion. That’s good news for me because I’m enthusiastic about my growing collection of CDs and I can still get vast majority of what I’m interested in on a shiny plastic disc. I guess people have different reasons why they buy them. Today I want to tell you about one major reason why I do so.

I don’t have anything against files or streaming services. In fact, as soon as I get a CD album I immediately rip it to FLAC files and form now on I mostly listen to these files. So why to bother with the disc when I can get the same content from Internet in seconds, not to bother about finding a local store or waiting for a parcel? No, it’s not about the nice booklet and CD print, although they are a nice addition. Most importantly, with this piece of plastic comes a set of rights you don’t get with any digital service.

In a nutshell, when you buy a digital file, what you really get is right to make copies of that file and to play it, nothing more. What is important is that you can’t transfer this right to anyone else, not temporarily nor permanently. Physical media, on the other hand, is something to which you have full rights that come with ownership: you can borrow it, sell it, play it, do whatever you please (except maybe for playing it to the audience). Most importantly, in case of selling, you transfer all these rights to new owner, just like with any other thing like a car or a TV set.

I like to look at it from the standpoint of value. When you buy a file, obviously it has value to you, because you can use it (play it). But to everyone else, this file presents 0 value, basically no one else can do anything legal with it. But when you buy a CD for, let’s say, 10$ it is still worth 10$ to anyone else (minus potential wear of course). And yet, digital albums cost almost exactly the same as regular physical releases. With physical media, you get full rights at no additional cost. Moreover, you can always make a file of that media and store it somewhere safe, so you also have all the benefits of a file.

How does that work in practice, why should you care? Recently I made some interesting observation on my Discogs account. Currently, my collection of CDs, small as it is, is worth an average of 12$ per CD. That’s roughly equal to the average price of new CDs I buy! The price for each CD was calculated as median price of CDs of the same release in the same condition as mine that were sold on Discogs. Of course disproportions are quite big: some CD are “worth” as little as 2$ – 3$ but some actually gained on value in time (mostly due to they limited availability).

So, If today I decided I’m no longer interested in the whole music thing, I should be able to get back most of what I invested. I’m basically listening to music for free! This will probably vary depending on what genres you prefer and how you handle and store your media, and of course it takes extra space in your home and is a bit more time-consuming. But if you’re a music enthusiast like me, you probably won’t mind it at all.

To sum it all up, even though it’s 2017 and so many goods are now purely virtual, I see absolutely no reason why I should resign from buying music on physical media. It’s probably a matter of commitment: for a casual listener, file is probably good enough. But at some point, when you buy enough music, I think it’s just economically wise to go physical.

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