Monday, May 02, 2005

Dueling over dual discs- do record companies hate and mistrust us that much?

Industry playa Bob Lefsetz puts out an interesting, amusing though sometimes wrong-headed and fogey-ish e-mail newsletter. Many industry people read it and it gets reprinted everywhere from VH1 to the Rhino Records homepage. His review of Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust seem pretty cynical and mean spirited. Anything low-key in BS's catalog is going to find detractors (who usually just want him to rock out with E Street again) and supporters (including die-hards) but a sober look at the new record should show that while it's not Nebraska, it's not The Ghost of Tom Joad either.

But when ranting about this new album, Lefsetz is really on-target when he talks about the problem of dual disc technology that's used there. On the part of the record companies, there's two thoughts that go behind DD and both of them involve piracy. First, a DD provides a user with some extra audio-visual content that you're not going to get with a regular CD (or a download for that matter). This makes it more appealing to fans to have these things to enhance their experience and make a store-bought purchase of the album.

But in addition, DD safeguards against copying (ripping) the songs there but, as they warn on the release itself, the disc isn't going to be able to be accessed in all types of play-back devices. This might include not just your computer but also your car. If you're stuck with just listening to it on your stereo then, what's the purpose of the A-V extras?

As Lefsetz notes in his DD article, people are getting pretty pissed about this. He cites postings at Amazon where users aren't just grumbling about the quality of songs but also how hard it is for them to try to listen to the album itself. Again and again, you hear the words "caveat emptor."

Whether they like it or not, the record companies message to buyers is this: we don't trust you and we don't care if we inconvenience you. Trying to rope people in with extra bells/whistles makes no sense if you're also pushing them away with their technology. Not surprisingly, there are song files from this record floating around the P2P services (i.e. Kazaa) so that anyone angry after buying the disc might have to go there to hear it. These people will also be telling friends and online lists and message boards how they've been ripped off and to warn other people from not making the same mistake. How dumb and how bad does that then make the record companies look? For that matter, how does that make Springsteen look?

A piece from the Chicago Tribune (Sounds like the future) notes these problems:

DualDiscs don't conform to the industry's compact-disc standard and can't be read by all players. Pioneer, Toshiba and Onkyo were among manufacturers to have initially issued warnings against playing DualDiscs, noting that doing so may damage the machine. But the problem isn't widespread, and has been limited to select older players and multidisc changers."

The first two sentences of that should be warning enough. Manufacturers are issuing warnings? DD's might damage the machines? Would you want to buy one of these discs, take it home and then find out that you had one of the CD players that was going to be damanged by these things? Not quite a brave new world.

And what effect is this going to have on future CD's? If they keep pushing DD technology and consumers get more and more frustrated with finding out how to listen to their music, the result is going to be that they're going to drive more people to P2P services. Recently, it seem that the major labels were finally understanding that people want as much flexibility as possible to access and hear their favorite music. Trying to turn back this tide isn't going to work. It's going to backfire. Giving fans something a little extra for their money is commendable but not when it sacrifices usability. That's just suicide. If there was a CD only release without the extras but that could be played anywhere, it would easily outsell the DD version of the same album.

People who buy a record online or offline at the bare minimum should be able to actually listen to what they purchased. When you deny them that or make it inconvenient for them to do that, you're telling them not just that you don't like or trust them. Whether you like or not, you're also telling them that there's a better way to do this. Isn't it funny that in trying to draw more people in to buy their product, these labels may in fact be driving people away from making any purchases?

Oh well... it took the labels a few years to realize that one of the best ways to beat P2P was to make deals with online music purchasing services (i.e. Rhapsody, the new Napster). Maybe it'll take them a few more years and millions of dollars in loses to realize that DD, as it stands now, is the wrong approach. In the meantime, their lawyers will surely thank them for driving more people to P2P services and then punishing them for that. Since they're the only ones who will benefit now, makes you wonder if the lawyers themselves weren't the ones who were really pushing DD...


Anonymous S. Keptac said...

Hmmm... could it be that Sony, who put out the Springsteen disc, knows that you'll need to have the latest stereo equipment to play that album. As it so happens, Sony sells stereos too. What a strange coincidence...

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm mostly still a vinyl guy, but I would be pretty upset if I bought a record and it destroyed my Pioneer CD player from 1988. The record companies have an uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the foot.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I was frankly delighted to have surround-sound and stereo mixes of the new Springsteen album for the same price I would ordinarily have paid for only the latter. (Check the prices in the SACD/DVD-A aisle sometime -- you know, the one in the musty corner at the back of the record store.) A standard CD version should have been released at the same time, though.

10:47 AM  

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