All information in these pages is copyright (c) 1995 by Roger Nichols. All rights reserved. Permission for personal reference only, and may not be reproduced by any method without written permission.

CDs While You Wait

by Roger Nichols

As you can see, I have written my little fingers to the bone this month, so this won't take long. I got an Alesis BRC to test out this month along with a beta unit of the Alesis AI-1 digital interface box with built in sample rate conversion. After reviewing the Tascam DA-88 and doing all of the transfers analog, I decided to see what the actual difference was between using a sample rate converter or just going analog. The results were surprising and you will get to see them next time. Until then, don't be afraid to make your transfers analog. And from me, a guy who has to wash his own mouth out with soap every time he uses the "A" word, that is a pretty ballsey statement.

My latest pet peeve is over the recent Blockbuster/IBM joint announcement dealing with distributing and selling CDs. The way it would work is like this. You walk into the record store and enter a booth where you can listen to any cut on any CD that you are interested in purchasing. When you have decided which one gets your hard earned money, you push the button and insert your credit card. The CD is recorded for you on the spot. It would take about six minutes to crank out your CD while a color laser printer churns out the CD booklet. If there is some special packaging associated with the particular CD, then you would get a temporary booklet and the real one would be mailed to you. Bingo Gringo.

Finally, no matter how esoteric the CD you are looking for is, you can be guaranteed of walking out of the store with it. Blockbuster says that based on surveys they have conducted, as much as 40% of the people who go to the store to buy a particular CD can't find what they are looking for. This would change all of that.

For the person who wants to expand their musical horizons, imagine being able to listen to the CD before you buy it. Let's say you read about this new world music movement to combine Celtic Harp music with Pygmy chanting. When you get to the music store you discover that there are seven different CDs of this stuff. It would be nice if you could listen first.

You know, that is the way it used to be back in the 60s. In California it was Walich's Music City at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood. You would get the records out of the rack and go into this little phone booth size listening room. You could play records 'till your brain felt like a stale tortilla, and then go up to the counter and tell them which ones you wanted. They sales staff would hand you a new sealed copy and you were on your way.

Warner Bros. Records and Sony Music said that they would not support Blockbuster in such an endeavor. They have their CD plants and their distribution companies to protect.

An interesting side aspect of this new system would be that since all of the product is delivered by computer, then all of the accounting and payment could be done the same way. When you pay for your CD, the record company's account gets credited instantly, and so could the artist and songwriter royalty accounts. I guess that may cut down on the funny accounting practices that seem to crop up from time to time.

It seems that the record companies should be all for this new technology. Their CD plants could start gearing up for blank CDs. There is another profit center that will need to be addressed. It seems that if those 40% of the customers now left with a CD, record company profits would increase. Blockbuster says that without the shipping and handling charges that average about $3 per CD, the prices of CDs should come down. And what about the reduced inventory that would be required by each store, and the reduced cost of handling all of the returns? It seems like all there is good news for the consumer.

The format doesn't have to be limited to CD, either. It seems to me that you could just as easily get the MiniDisk, DAT, Cassette or DCC (choke, sorry) version instead if that is what you wanted. The record companies wouldn't have to complain about stocking so many different formats.

Guess what? If the big record companies try to fight this new technology they are in for a surprise. It seems that a few years ago the record companies tried to stop DAT by requiring SCMS copy protection. The agreement between the RIAA and all of the equipment manufacturers was that in exchange for the copy code hardware that each customer would be allowed to make a single copy of the purchased CD for his/or her own use. It didn't say anything about having to take physical delivery of the CD before you copy it, did it? There is nothing wrong with the premise that you could walk in to the record store, pay for the CD of your choice, and then allow the store, as your agent, to make the copy for you. Follow me? If you pay the record company for your copy of the music, you can put it on whatever format you want.

Remember what happened to video rental stores in the early 70s? The movie studios tried to put them all out of business. Now these same movie studios are proud to announce that video sales and rentals contribute to as much as 50% of the total income produced by a movie. There are tons of movies that are produced only for video release.

The same thing is going to happen because of the Blockbuster/IBM idea. Record companies will make more money from their old catalogs. A re-release will only need to sell a few hundred copies to make it worth while to re-master it. Small record companies will have more of a chance against the big guns than they have in the past. Nobody will have to get out the crystal ball and try to decide how many CDs to press up and distribute. New record companies will start up in project studios. The consumer sitting in the listening booth at the record store will stand an equal chance of hearing your CD that you made in your basement for $300, or the new Michael Jackson Megabuck Production.

Think about it. There already are homes with CD recorders. Coupled with some of the new digital audio by satellite companies, soon you will be able to order the CD after seeing the video and have it sent right to your home, just like pay-per-view movies.

Well, that is all I have to say this month. Let me know what you think. Even better, let your favorite record company know what you think. Let your favorite record store know what you think. Let the 7-11 owner know what you think (if you can find an interpreter). Soon one of these new CD listening booths may be right next to the cash machine in every convenience store. I just hope they don't put the CD recorder near the Slurpie machine.

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