Who benefit's? The record companies for one. Now they don't have to deal with buyin CD media, shipping, distribution and so on. Now they will have even more money to promote crappy artists.
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But the downside for the record companies is that buying music will now be ala carte, one song a time and only the ones you really want, no more buying 11 lousy songs to get one good one. That's one of the reasons record companies did everything they possibly could to prevent electronic distribution and only began to embrace it when the popularity of iTunes forced them into it.
We still use tape and vinyl for hardcores. Some still do not use shiny discs. Last year vinyl had a record no pun intended, year in sales. As the 10 - 20 year old crowd become latent adults they may drive the market, but with the resurgence of tubes as being Fashionable especially to a market that deems them cute, we might just find the opposite true, no shiny disks, just all vinyl.
Just take a look at fashions, 70s coming at you with hair and clothing. The real market is driving by easy supply and demand for specific age groups. The younger the target market the more computer literate they are and the more instant access they tend to be. Thus downloadable music. But the real truth is that ripping and downloading really became popular because of the cost FREE. If you put up a store that gave CDs away they would be out of stock in a few hours.
If we educate the youth on the sonic advantages in like for instance tube equipment then you would see a resurgence of interest in this medium. But hey its way easier to take a IPOD than a CD player and way less work than carrying a turntable around. So technology determines ease of use in many ways.
Personally I think CDs will be here until I die just like vinyl, and I have hopefully 50 years left in me.
It will be more convenient for us to carry around. I was never one to think an iPod was serious audio. I have an mp3 player and a Shure E3, but just to travel on planes. I don't consider it anything other than a convenient portable thing. I'll still be listening to vinyl. The medium that started all recording when CD's go bye bye.
The record companies are hosed unless they come up with a way to stop online sharing. It's just getting easier and easier for people to get free music.
Audiophiles would NOT benefit. If online distribution becomes standard, then MP3's and it's compression might become the only way to find rare recordings.
I've noticed that stores like Future Shop and Best Buy have been downsizing their CD stock over the past several years and only ordering top selling, youth oriented music. Jazz, blues and classical are not restocked. Together with smaller "record" stores going out of business, I'm beginning to get concerned not just for consumers but artists as well.
I think all the hand wringing and garment rending over iPods and online distribution is missplaced.
There's nothing sacred about the shiny disc, though if one had fallen from the sky during the 12th century people would surely have formed a religion around it.
The iPod, online distribution and mp3 format were not invented to punish audiophiles for their pride and vanity. They are both a response to the expense of both bandwidth and digital storage.
As the cost of both bandwidth and storage drop, which they are very rapidly doing, there's only one reason the resolution of available audio won't go up, not down. That reason is market demand, the consensus of the public as to what's 'good enough.'
At the same time, just as has always happened, musicians and audio engineers will probably continue to create much higher resolution audio than 99% of the market demands. That's the way it's always worked and it's much easier and cheaper to do it now than it once was.
Online distibution, then, should make it easier, not harder, for those who care about such things to get at the original, high-resolution audio since there won't be any need for separate distribution media, as there is now for CD, DVD-A and SACD. The ideal scenario is that you go online, click a button to select whatever audio quality you want, send some digital cash down the pipe one way and the file comes back the other.
This isn't a prediction, it's clear that the proliferation of high-definition television isn't doing anything to improve the quality of programming, just a recognition that if we can't get high-quality music it won't be because the technology prevents it, it will be because the market won't support it.