(Not) Giving Us What We (Don’t) WantSep 7th, 2016 | By Thom Lieb | Category: Back to Vinyl, Essays
I will always remember the day in the late 1980s when I walked into my local record shop to pick up a new release. I easily located it on CD, but the LP — my preferred format — was nowhere to be found. I found a clerk and asked him if I had somehow missed it, or whether it hadn’t arrived yet or had sold out. No, he said, it was not being released on LP, only CD. “That stinks,” I replied. To which he replied, “That’s how the free market works.”
I can’t say I ever quite understood that comment. Here was an avid (some might say rabid) LP buyer, money in hand, and I could not buy what I wanted. Given events since then, it’s safe to say many others were also disappointed at the record company’s decision to stop the vinyl presses. This was not about “the free market,” it was about the first of many short-sighted decisions that would lead to a long decline in the music industry.
On one hand, who could blame the companies? CDs were selling for ridiculous prices back then, reaching nearly $20 for each longbox-encased disc. Music lovers were buying their entire collections over again to transition from that “inferior” vinyl to this Perfect Sound Forever! Why bother with the time and expense of making finicky, defect-prone LPs that would bring in only a fraction of the sales price — EVEN IF there was still demand for them?
I was reminded of this by a recent quest to buy a new release. Jenny Lewis’ side project Nice As Fuck released its self-titled debut this summer. I took a listen on Spotify and added it to my personal “Best of the Year” list. As I usually do, I next tried to buy a copy. What I found at the official website struck me as another misguided attempt to make decisions for music buyers. Among the myriad T-shirts, buttons and posters, there were two options for buying the music itself: an mp3 or a limited edition vinyl version, which includes the mp3. There are no contact options on the site, and my attempt to get more information via Twitter led nowhere.
If you’ve read my recent rants on vinyl, you know I’ve been pretty burned by LP purchases recently. So I was really hoping to get a CD or FLAC download of the album. OK, I figured, I would have to order from Amazon.com instead, which means the artists would get a much smaller part of my payment. But things are no different at Amazon, either. Those seem to be the only two options available anywhere. Not only can I not get a high-quality digital version, but I am also left wondering what the source for the LP is — an mp3 file?
I understand that artists cannot offer their work in every format forever. But I’m not asking for a cassette or minidisc version of the NAF album — just a version comparable to the “Perfect Sound Forever” format that started taking away our choices nearly three decades ago.
How about you: Are you ready to see CDs and high-quality downloads disappear?