Cost Per Minute: Are Compact Discs A Good Value? 
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Written by Bryan Dailey   
Thursday, 20 April 2006

You’ve heard many times on the pages of AVRev.com about how the woes of the music industry can’t be placed solely on the shoulders of peer-to-peer file swapping or piracy. The fact that the compact disc is still a poor value was never more evident to me than when I was at the mega electronics store WOW! in Long Beach, California this weekend. This staggeringly large store features a fully stocked Tower Records/Video, along with the newly merged CompUSA/Good Guys! I went in to pick up some toner for my laser printer and, for some reason, the once familiar but long forgotten desire to browse the CD racks came over me. I realized that in my collection of “must have” music, I had a gaping hole. I didn’t have the Metallica CD … And Justice for All, and I wasn’t about to break out my worn-out cassette version or download the album from Limewire for fear of Metallica’s strong-armed legal team, so I figured I’d pick up a copy at Tower Records.

I wandered up and down the aisles, remembering the days when I would actually care and get up for the upcoming release of a new album by a band I thought was amazing. Perhaps I’m showing my age as I hit my early thirties, but I just found it hard to get excited about anything I saw on the “new releases rack.” Then again, finding the next big thing wasn’t my goal. I wanted one of the best metal albums of all time and before I knew it, I was at the Metallica rack. Flipping through the CDs, I found that oh so familiar album cover with the crumbling statue of the Lady of Justice on the cover and almost didn’t flip the disc over to check the price, assuming it would be somewhere in the $11.99 to $14.99 range. Curiosity got the best of me and I flipped over the disc. To my amazement, the price tag read a staggering $18.99 and there was not the typical yellow “sale” sticker that I am so accustomed to seeing. If I wanted to rock to some “Shortest Straw” and “Harvester of Sorrow” in my car, I would have to plunk down quite bit of dough.

I have never considered myself cheap, but I found myself with a little case of sticker shock. In retail, there is a price where almost anything will sell. List your house at $50,000 over market value and, unless it’s a scorching hot market, the offers won’t come pouring in. For me, with this CD purchase, the decision came down to something simple: the $20 bill in my wallet. To go along with my craving for this Metallica disc was also craving for a strawberry smoothie at Jamba Juice. Had Tower priced the disc at what I felt to be a fair amount for a back catalogue record ($9.99 to $13.99), I would have bought it without hesitation. Because they swung for the fences, I left the disc in the bin, doing the retailer, the label and a reportedly financially starving Lars Ulrich no good whatsoever. I did buy the over-priced drink and then went home to purchase the exact disc I wanted, used, from eBay, for a little bit over $5 with $2 shipping. I know arguing over $10 here and there seems like I might be cheap, but I am not. I lunch in Beverly Hills every day, paying easily what the album would have cost me. I was making an economic protest about the value of the album. I understand overhead and royalties with the best of them, but at the same time the label has long ago paid for the production costs of such a great, multi-platinum heavy metal record. With CDs in jewel cases costing about $0.50, I was getting ripped off and I wasn’t going to stand for it, nor was I going to do anything illegal or immoral in response.

This lost “brick and mortar” sale due to an overpriced disc is becoming a common occurrence. I have often heard my friends saying, “ I just don’t buy music any more, because it’s too expensive and just not worth it,” or “Why don’t you just get it used?’ People are still buying DVDs by the millions each week, with “King Kong” selling a reported 6.5 million copies in its first week. A number-one-selling compact disc might be lucky to do 10 percent of that amount. Of course, this number could be a little skewed, as there are many more music releases in a given week than there are mainstream DVD releases, but the days of N’Sync or Eminem having first week sales well north of a million copies seem to be a thing of the past. It seems lately that even the biggest-selling albums in a particular year barely sell more than Peter Jackson’s big-budget thriller did in seven days.

Going back to a point we have always stressed at AVRev.com, the music industry, retailers included, needs to take a hard look at their prices and put their products better in line with the pricing structure of DVDs and videogames. When shopping for items at the grocery store, the price tags on the racks give a “price per ounce” breakdown. Although people don’t specifically realize it, many consumers do a mental “length of entertainment per dollar” equation in their heads. A jam-packed CD might clock in with 72 minutes of music. Priced at a respectable $15, that would come to a little over 20 cents a minute. On the other hand, I have frequently seen DVDs priced at $19 that on their covers say “featuring over five hours of bonus footage, deleted scenes, commentaries and bloopers.” Combine that with a feature movie length of 1.45 hours on average and you are looking at cost of less than five cents per minute. From a purely mathematical standpoint, the average CD just can’t compete with a DVD for value.







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