May 2014 Archives

Hip Coasters?

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For several years now there has been much speculation concerning the future of the compact disc in the music marketplace.  One school of thought holds that the cd's days are numbered; rendered hopelessly obsolete by a combination of streaming music sources such as Spotify, Rdio and Pandora and home computer based hi-fi systems with no need for physical media taking up space.   If this proves to be the case, the environmentally conscious among us can repurpose our shiny relics as coasters, which, with label side up, advertise the sophistication of our musical tastes and function as a conversational stimulant when entertaining guests:  "Oh I see you're a fan of Sonic Youth/Albert Ayler/Alfred Schnittke, etc." 

However, there are those, myself among them, who believe that the compact disc format will be around for quite a while.  Who would have predicted the resurgent popularity of vinyl ten years ago?  And yet, a growing number of music lovers embrace the older analog format for the warmth of its sound, its (for the present) superior resolution to digital musical media and, I suspect, for its inherent physicality.  After all, it is nice to have something you can actually touch for the money you lay out.  This applies to compact discs as well, although album graphics and liner notes are better appreciated at 12 in. than 4 ¾ in.  

For most people however, the convenience factor of digital will trump the virtues of vinyl, especially when you take into account the absence of surface noise and inner groove distortion with cds as well as their increased dynamic range.  Also, while portability is not the cd's long suit, compact disc technology has been around commercially since 1982, which means there are a lot of cd players out there in people's homes and cars.  Casual music fans, especially older ones, may be willing to continue using their home players indefinitely, even if they have embraced the iTunes/iPod/iPad/iPhone paradigm and its non-Mac variants for music on the go.

The topic of the compact disc's continuing commercial viability has been under discussion recently on the Music Library Association's listserv (to which I subscribe).  The consensus among those weighing in is that the marketplace will continue to support the compact disc for years, possibly decades to come, although its market share will continue to erode.  It it is interesting to note in this connection that the General Manager of Music Hunter Distributing Company, who was one of the respondents to the MLAL thread, said business has never been better for his company, which sells music cds to libraries. 

What does this mean for you the Library user?   Well, no matter what kind of consumer of recorded music you are, barring those who listen exclusively to vinyl, the Library can accommodate your preferences.    Our collection of compact discs, in all musical genres, plateaued at roughly 31,000 items several years ago.  This figure does not include the additional discs held by Cos Cob and Byram branches.   Alternatively, if your listening is heavily skewed towards streaming and/or downloads, the Library offers Freegal, Naxos Music Library and Hoopla services via our Digital Music page.  All three are free of charge to anyone with a Greenwich Library card and all three can be used on portable devices.

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