Essay Winners: # 1 2 3 4.

Will MiniDisc Survive?

Mike Worrell
Akron, Ohio
May, 2000

There was a time not long ago when selecting a format for any media was simple: you sat back, relaxed, and waited for the dust to settle. Then you sided with the winner. It worked like a charm for years... CD's, VHS, whatever. I had a cousin who bought an Odyssey 2 at the height of the Atari craze back in the early eighties, and while I admired his independence, I knew it was an utterly futile decision. Play it safe... that was my policy.

I loved the whole idea of Minidisc from day one. When I first saw an ad for it in Rolling Stone and read about the features, it was as if someone had read my mind and created my dream format. Personally, I never saw MD as a rival to CD's, so I wasn't concerned about it on that level at all. I saw it strictly as a recording medium, and I figured that the days of the cassette tape were numbered. I wanted one... bad. But the cost was simply too high. No problem, I thought. It'll take off like a rocket, and in two years the units will be cheap and plentiful.

Well, not quite.

The days of a single format dominating the market are gone. People simply have too many options and varied demands, and the evolution of the PC into a stereo component has totally obliterated the old rules for many. Will Minidisc survive? Yes. Thank God, the rest of the planet has decided that already. As long as I have a line on products out of Japan, I don't care what U.S. consumers do (thank you, Minidisco). But I honestly believe MD will do more than just survive in the U.S., and I say that for several reasons. Here in Akron, Ohio, I can now walk into the local drug store and buy a 5-pack of MD Blanks. I regularly stop by Best Buy and Circuit City to check out the latest MD models and prices, and when I do I ask the salespeople questions... "How are these selling?", or "Which do you prefer, MD or CD-R", etc. Last year I was consistently told that MD sales were steady and slowly getting better. This year, the units are consistently sold out, and they're telling me that sales are taking off. Asked if MD is outselling CD-R, the answer is, "Definitely". But CD-R has its own place, and since it's not really a portable medium, it's success relative to MD really isn't a concern. MP3 is the real threat.

Or is it? I have some harsh assessments concerning MP3 that don't quite square with the conventional wisdom, but which I think need to be said. First, MP3's sound lousy at practical file sizes. The appeal of them is simple: FREE PIRATED MUSIC. MP3 players are useless to most people. This will change over time, but right now they're simply computer toys. The people who are going to buy Minidisc equipment in the near future aren't sitting in front of their PC's at three in the morning doing searches on Napster, regardless of what the media says. The future of Minidisc is the millions of Americans who are still carrying around cassette Walkmans. The gym I work out at is full of them. I don't see ANY MP3 players. None. Zero. Zilch. I see cassette players. Explain to these people what is involved in ripping MP3's from CD's, downloading, flash memory, blah, blah blah, and they'll just go numb. The people who get teary-eyed about the digital music revolution are the same geeks who get excited that they can watch The Matrix on their PC using a DVD drive. Meanwhile, the rest of the country just goes out and buys a DVD component, and they really couldn't care less about getting a PC into the mix. So it is with music. The media is predicting the death of everything from sex to kitchen appliances as the whole of human experience is tied into the home computer. But that's not reality. Reality is that most Americans buy and use cassette tapes, and they'll look for something that allows them to do similar things when they decide to replace them. Downloading versus real time? Sorry, Waldo... they couldn't care less. Minidisc fills the bill... it has features that consumers want, it's an intuitive medium, and the prices just keep getting better.

In the end, all of that stuff is irrelevant, anyway. Increasingly, the music will be detached and separated from the media itself. The standards will be set in the form of file formats, etc. There will be no standard as far as what you store those files on. MP3 players and Minidisc (and CD-R, for that matter) address different needs. I know how to record an LP as a wave file, and how to make a CD of it, or rip MP3's from it, blah, blah, blah. Know why? I'M A NERD, that's why... nobody cares about that junk! I see Minidisc as the format with the broadest appeal for the average music listener who demands portability and simplicity. And increasingly, even in the lagging U.S. market, that's proving to be true.

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