Monday, October 1, 2012

The CD, at 30

Joel Rose (via Khoi Vinh):

The CD was supposed to have the last word when it came to convenience and sound quality. And for a while, it did. The CD dominated record sales for more than two decades — from the late 1980s until just last year, when sales of digital tracks finally surpassed those of physical albums. It’s a cycle that has played out many times in the history of the music industry, with remarkable consistency.

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The most fascinating part of the CD saga to me is that, without the basic architectural decisions, and without the music industry's short-sightedness in not yanking the format of the market in the early-mid '90 to replace it with a DRM'd non-backwards compatible physical media format, (though they would admittedly have been taking a hard-to-swallow utterly massive short-term hit by doing so), they both permanently decimated their business and made a world with Apple As The Largest Corporation possible.

But if I knew in the early-mid '90's that the music industry was driving into a brick wall, they should have been able to figure it out in time. They even had a few extra years to get their act together. (Seriously. First time I popped a CD into a Mac, saw the tracks were unprotected, quickly did the Moore's Law thought-experiment, and I knew they had to literally stop the presses and retool, or the brick wall was coming.)

And really, separate from the music industry's sad fate, their ongoing short-term addiction to the CD revenues preventing them from having any legal means to stop Apple from drinking their milkshake creates the lone possible branch of the multiverse where the Space Ship gets built.

The CD : Apple's World Dominance :: IBM running MS-DOS : Microsoft's World Dominance

(Tangentially, but amusingly enough, Casady & Greene was founded only two years after the CD. Though the CD obviously wasn't their focus for a very long time.)

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