My last good New Years resolution came to me at the Y2K party. (I quit smoking, cold turkey.) This time, I’m ridding myself of another addiction, one that’s cost me thousands of dollars in my lifetime, and has grown more hazardous each year.
I’m going to stop buying new CDs.
It used to be that CDs were a known quantity: you put it in the player, press play, it works. A compact disc was, like a vinyl record, an artifact of a recording, something you knew you’d be able to play on any device that was physically compatible with it. This is key to the success of any media format. Nobody wants to buy an album (or a movie, or a book) knowing that its functionality has been crippled, particularly when the precise limitations aren’t disclosed beforehand. But somehow, according to the majors, our reluctance to play along with their dirty tricks is our fault, and reason to jack up prices and lock down content.
These days, it is clear that the record cartel is playing fast and loose with the rules, and not much caring about the consequences for the consumer. On some recent albums, labels are purposely breaking the redbook CD standard that guarantees that kind of compatibility, as another ill-conceived anti-piracy move. And that turns out to be the least of the consumer’s problems: we know about Sony’s XCP fiasco, which showed us that infecting our computers is on the table, from the cartel’s perspective. Of course, Sony isn’t alone here, as other labels and content protection companies look for various ways to hinder users from accessing the music they’ve purchased.
A CD is no longer the artifact that it once was: its own compatibility and longevity is in doubt, and those two properties comprise most of the value of purchasing a given recording. The record cartel is guilty of turning music into copy-protected software, complete with end-user licenses and spyware, and charging us more money for less freedom.
My resolution for 2006 is to stop buying new CDs, with very limited exceptions. I will limit my music consumption to what is available legally online. Any CDs I do purchase will be direct from the artist, from independent labels, or used, and will be ripped to MP3 and immediately archived.
I will get most of my music from sources I already know and use: namely, various Creative Commons netlabels like Magnatune, Comfort Stand and Epsilonlab; the music RSS feed at archive.org; and subscription sites like eMusic and Wippit that offer MP3 files. If the urge to buy a mass-market CD should strike (as it did about four times in 2005), I’ll buy it from the iTunes Music Store (this being a viable option since I have an iPod and copies of iTunes everywhere). If the record cartel gets its way and pushes the album price above $9.99, I’ll stop buying those, too.
Something’s gotta give in this marketplace. I will not continue to pay increasing sums for the CDs I buy, particularly when it seems that labels are using more of that money to take capabilities away from me than they do, you know, to pay artists. The labels, even after their shady accounting and the virtual indentured servitude of their artists, are on life support. It’s time to pull the plug.