Napster-proof CDs

By Charles C. Mann

Published March 29, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

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I was a teenager when the guy in the record store said, "Someday, these will all be CDs." The problem then, as with any new technology, was the cost: An LP record cost $8.99, a CD, $16.99.

The irony here is that it's cheaper to print out a CD. So apparently what the consumer was paying for was quality, and the R&D costs of the new technology.

Today's new technology is the MP3. A downloaded song costs anywhere from $3 to $6 -- for one song. This data can be lost immediately with no recourse. And let me point out, that an MP3 is not as good quality as the CD (from a purist's viewpoint). It would seem to me that if you follow the pattern of LP, cassette, CD and MP3, they ascend in both price and ease of duplication. Check this: The medium gets cheaper, but the price goes up. Why? What are the record companies really basing retail prices on?

Since it appears as though we're paying for a one-user license to the music, I think we should be able to back that data up however we see fit. I have nearly new CDs with skips on them already, and it almost brings tears to my eyes. Should I have to pay another $16.95 because the 10-cent CD has a scratch? No. I didn't buy a plastic disc, I bought someone's music, and I should be able to listen to that music for the rest of my life.

-- Jason Alexander Neely

Charles Mann needs to check his technical facts. Details about the Red and Yellow book standards are wrong. For example, pick up a copy of Santana's "Supernatural." Playing time exceeds 74 minutes. There is no 74-minute limit to audio discs, despite what the Red Book says. Similarly, the number of 'tracks' info Mr. Mann details is incorrect. 99 tracks are a hard limit, but Mr. Mann seems to confuse tracks with file systems, which allow for the storage of data files. For example, a FAT16 file system on a CD-ROM would allow for roughly 65K worth of files, regardless of the number of tracks.

-- Matthew Leeds

The music industry seems to be on a mission to alienate as many of its customers as possible. At this point, nearly everyone feels an obligation to pay for the music they really listen to, but if the industry keeps declaring war on its customers, I doubt that will continue to be the case. That will be a real shame, because the artists will be the ones most hurt if people stop buying the record companies' products.

I hope the record companies come to their senses soon, or this is going to be an even uglier fight.

-- Andrew Norris

What about DVD players? They have been marketed as "replacements" for CD players, which is why they sell the five-DVD tray machines to begin with (I doubt anyone puts in five movies and hits "shuffle"). Don't they use the same CD-ROM technology that would make these CDs unlistenable? The author didn't make this clear.

-- Rob Keane

Throughout this whole music piracy issue, I've been surprised that more people haven't mentioned programs like AudioCatalyst and Audiograbber, which enable a person to click on one button and rip and mp3 a track from a CD in less than five minutes. The first time I used Audio Catalyst, I was surprised that it wasn't a more controversial program, and that was a year before Napster ever existed.

I've always thought the compact disc was a crappy medium for music, and even now with over 700 CDs in my collection, I still do. If the music industry starts copy protecting CDs using the methods described in this article, I will not only refuse to buy new compact discs on principle, but I wouldn't be able to play them even if I did, since I don't have a stereo and listen to all of my CDs on my CD-ROM. I guess I'll just have to go out and buy a Technics turntable and start stocking up on vinyl (which, if you have a soundcard with RCA jacks, can be MP3'd the old fashioned way -- with Windows Sound Recorder and a good MP3 encoder).

It's a shame the industry didn't get wise to MP3s sooner. I already had hundreds of MP3s on my computer from the Internet before Napster ever showed its face on the Net. Hell, the music selection was better before Napster came around. Now I have to dig through 10,000,000,000 bad early 90s rappers to find an out-of-print song by Ice.

-- Josh Taillon

By Salon Staff

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