The Rising Price of CD’s

This is a monopolistic industry. It’s outrageous and frankly, I’m pretty pissed off about it. It’s been something of a slow rage to me, but here’s the end result of it. See, I started listen to music when vinyl was on its way out (because it wasn’t trendy anymore) and cassette tapes were in the mainstream. OK, fine, I was around for 8-Track too, but that’s moot because I never had one of my own. Cassettes sucks. They were fragile lil things, constantly breaking, unspooling, melting in the sun and sounded like crap. Dolby-B/C never did anything but muffle the highs and every tape player had a slightly different speed to it, so music never sounded the same from machine to machine. Oops, got techy again. Anyway, I what I’m trying to say is I was around for the DAT debacle and the introduction of CD’s.

Since yesterday’s rant was a bit techno-Geeky, I thought I’d rant a bit about something we all can related to: The rising prices of CD’s.

When CD’s started coming out (circa 1985) the players were about $900 and the discs were about $15 a piece. This was before CD’s became the “standard” it is today; even I didn’t get my first player until about 89 or 90. Why? Because it was butt-ass expensive! The CD’s cost a substantial amount of money to make, as did the mastering process itself, which drove up the price of CD’s and the players (being new) were just that: New. You saw the same thing happen with DVD’s and you’ll see it again when the Blu-Laser DVD Player/Recorder hits the shelves in the next 12 months. It’s normal – new technology is always expensive, and then the price drops as the manufacturing processes behind them get easier and cheaper. Today, you can get a CD player – portable no less! – for about $30.

The average price of today’s CD’s however is up to $19.99. What the hell is this about? Higher costs? No. When I bought my first CD-R burner (used to make Data and Audio CD’s) for my PC in 1996, it was about $1000. Blank CD-R’s were about $20 per set of 10. It also took about an hour and a half to burn a complete CD, due to the speed of the drives (1x baby!). All of this stuff was consumer grade, off-the-shelf stuff, so it is common place and slow compared to what studios use. Prices today? I got a new CD-RW burner (ReadWrite) just last year for about $120. Blank CD-R’s are about $.25 each; they can even be free if you get the right rebate deal. The burners are also about 16 times as fast as they original one I started with, so figure about 15-20 minutes per burn. The cost of burning a CD-R/RW for me, some shmoe off the street, is down about 95%, over all. Yet the price of audio CD’s is up about 49.9%, and they were price gouging when they were at $15 years ago.

OK, so why are we paying $20 for a CD that costs about $0.75 to burn? Talent? Lets look into that. Now, I’m a hack of a musician and I’ve never recorded a single track professionally… but I have friends that have. And I know that as the same shmoe (from the case above), I have been able to purchase an almost completely digital set of instruments and recording software, just for fun. When you look at Sam Ash’s showroom for mastering tools, they usually suggest a PC or MAC with some software; they’ll also tell you that you’ll be recording studio grade tracks. So with a PC and a good sound-proof room, you can master anything. Add to that some regular instruments, much less the all digital, and I’m betting that it’s cheaper to master and record music than it was 15 years ago. So there’s no increase in costs, except for the bands – since they claim to not see more than 35% of the money that comes in from CD’s and touring (which has nothing to do with the CD distribution agreements), where’s it all going?

The bottom line is that the music recording industry is screwing you big time. They are jacking up the prices of music while the costs of the technology is going down. That’s unprecedented, in the technology field – there the prices drop unless they add new features to the product; then they either stay the same or they increase slightly. Even Microsoft doesn’t screw you this bad! These people have a lower cost of production, lower cost of manufacturing, and yet they have increased the price of the product. Somehow this seems wholy wrong. And then they wonder why a service like Napster can take off overnight? DUH. People will only get screwed for so long before smartening up, even in America. They won’t stop listening to music; that’s just not an option. However, you can only hand someone a plate of shit to eat and expect them to say “MMM GOOD” for so long; then they go elsewhere for what they need. What they the recording companies should do is start handing out free samples of KY, with their new releases, so when they screw you it won’t hurt as bad.

What I really want to know is who’s lobbying for the record industry in Washington because heaven help us should Microsoft hire them for the DOJ trails – these boys have a number of key Washington people in their back pockets, to be sure, and they are very savvy at what they do… lets just hope they stick to music.

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