& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast week slate.com had a fascinating story on the economics of the Compact Disc. It explained why big chains (Tower Records) are dying, why niche sellers (Silver Platters of Seattle) are thriving and why non-music retailers (Starbucks) are eager to release albums (Paul McCartney, serious).
Like everything we've been talking about in this column for months, the reasons for all the giant slayings came down to market forces and consumers' demand for choice. The article's reason for why joints like Starbucks are optimistic, though, had a new wrinkle: Old Folks. "[P]lenty of baby boomers still buy the shiny discs," explained writer Daniel Gross, boomers being scared, as old people are, of things like iPods.
I'm never one to shy away from a little ageism, and I'm sure demographic data would support Gross, but I think the argument misses an underlying cause. There are plenty of older tech heads who jumped ship the moment iPod generation one hit the streets. Likewise, there are plenty of young people (James Pants, I'm looking at you) who go all the way back to vinyl as their chosen format.
CD sales are driven by preference and ease of use, not age. Vinyl is kept alive by DJs and people who like its analog warmth. Similarly, Andrew Matson, our primary hip-hop writer, voices near-paralyzing dread at the idea of listening to an album without scouring the liner notes. We live in a world of niche tastes. This is an extension.
So yes, CDs are partially sustained by old people comfortable with old tech. They also survive though, on kids who crave flexibility. The CD was the first major digital format and the last to be virtually un-protected. CD's dovetail with the newest technology without being hampered with any of that tech's annoying usage restrictions. CDs do all the things people want.
Super label EMI decided to make its iTunes high bit-rate inventory DRM restriction-free as of Monday, so that's one of four major labels freeing up some of their music. It's a start. Until record labels start offering their entire catalogues without restrictions, though (and with liner notes, you morons), the CD is in no danger of dying.