(Not) Giving Us What We (Don’t) Want

Sep 7th, 2016 | By | Category: Back to Vinyl, Essays

3163821489_5f3513335f_oI 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?

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2 Comments to “(Not) Giving Us What We (Don’t) Want”

  1. Matthew says:

    Really very irritating. I too remember when LPs became increasingly difficult to get and was forced down the CD road. Ironically I’m only just now happy with the sound of CD replay on my hi-fi and now it’s going to be phased out. I guess it’s a bit different this time as the main driver for CD and CD mech production has long been the computer industry and that has moved to downloads / hard drive storage. Even so, I’m peeved I have to yet again look at a different replay method and I just plain dislike having to use a computer to listen to music.

    • Thom Lieb says:

      Thanks for the note. I have worked hard to create a good-sounding digital playback setup, and when I look at the complexity of it vs. our old LPs or even CDs, it boggles my mind!

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