Interesting idea, and to some degree probably correct. It's odd that this hasn't been talked about more, but have you ever noticed that currently discussions of music downloads center around MP3 and lossy compression schemes, while hardware (slowly) pushes towards a higher resolution format (DVD-A, SACD). There are opposing views, particularly from those that represent the musicians vs those that distribute music, on this topic. I personally feel that music distribution via the internet (or satelite--which is already true to some degree) will occur. It's a simple business model that someday can literally give you just about all music at virtually anytime. I can invision putting in a list of things you want to store on your hard disc and the next morning it's all there. In the background it can continue to bring in new titles and recommend new music. It gives a very good recurring revenue stream to whomever is distributing. What are the problems with this model? First capital investment, but that can easily be overcome by the super giants in entertainment (Sony, Phillips, Warner etc.) The real problem I foresee is the legalities involved in this type of distribution. Can you imagine the contracts for this? I know there are a number of attorneys here on A-gon and they can probably respond to this much better, but just consider the problems of copy protection on DVD-A and SACD and that really wasn't such a wild departure from CD. Bottom line is, I think your CD's will be useful for quite some time now. Hopefully they won't for my grandchildren.
My guess is that they will become retro-styled coasters. I'm going to miss some of those music stores, though.
You asked for an economist, so here goes ...
First, there are no guarantees that high quality music will be available anytime soon via the internet. Yes, it will likely be there some day -- at a price. I would guess (hey, that's what economists do you know) that you will be able to pick and choose your favorite songs to download for a price. Of course, formats will need to be determined and playback equipment will need to be designed -- right now, the DVD and CD recorders on the PC are the most likely candidates since they are exist today. All of this may be moot (see Rives comments above) if the legalities and copy protections can't be worked out.
Sometime in the next five to ten years, I would guess that a direct method of recording, editing (tweak the compression, bass ...) and playback will be available for download for something beyond MPx. But, will quality be a top priority? Plus, from what I've heard here on Audiogon, the attainment of high quality takes time (CD's sound much better when they are copied at normal speed -- the bits are all there, but the timing is off when copying is accelerated). So, for quality, you'll have to pay for the music (gotta pay the piper ;-)) and you'll have to spend a lot of time properly downloading it. Since time is money and money is money, the overall expense will go up! Any interference on the phone/cable lines may also add noise; that will not bother most folks, but we are not most folks.
In a nutshell, I'm keeping all my recordings. If for no other reason, I won't have to spend the time rerecording them later. Plus, it will be a long time before the quality we seek is available. Will that change by the end of the decade? Probably. But what doesn't? They still make turnables so they will make CD/SACD players for some time since the stock of recordings is so large. Then, we'll talk about the golden age of digital recordings when the download jitter didn't make the music sound so cold.
Will the recordings be worth more in the future? Some will (recognized high quality and rare). But only so long as there are those who care and demand the old recordings -- that won't last long, maybe another 10-25 years depending on the quality level of the subsitute products (that may be long enough since "in the long run, we are all dead").
The value of your collection is as high as the enjoyment you get from it. Something else will come along that's better (hey, maybe vinyl will see a resurgence) -- that shouldn't diminish your enjoyment overall or today. That is my prediction and is worth every penny you paid for it!
You might have hard time putting your hard drive in your car or backyard portable.
You can keep them and listen to them in the future, on a "vintage" CD player. Just like we vinyl-types do with our records and "vintage" turntables. Of course, you will have to suffer the slings and arrows of some young tech-heads who will tell you that the new MP3's are "far superior" to that old CD "junk". Just like we vinyl-types have to suffer when people tell us that those CD's are better than our old records.
Don't start with the 8-track thing. I have a 3M 8-track player hooked into what is a fairly decent high end system. The output stage has been modded and the Black Diamond Racing cones that support it cost more than the player, as does the interconnect. Good 8-tracks can be had for less than 10 cents each. I have a decent collection of the tapes. They generally sound warm and closed-in, but so what?
For the cost of one $15.00 CD one can own 150 8-tracks. The sound on them is no worse than many transfers of master tape to CD, although it tends to be in the other direction. Where a bad CD can sound harsh, 8-tracks just sound dull and rolled off. I also listen to open reel tape, LP, CD, AM and FM.
Viridian! Dude! I was so thrilled to learn that I'm not the only one with a High End 8-track system. I replaced all the capacitors with Zen and Crescendo caps from North Creek and rewired with Litz. Roy Orbison has never been ths same. It was as if a veil had been lifted; the sound was simply more real, more present, more available. The PRaT was so immense it literally knocked me off my feet--a veritable prat fall!
Now here's the kicker. The model I modified was a Craig "Fireball Roberts Special" that I rescued from a 1968 Ford F-150 pickup. One corner of the case was cracked. I applied a couple of bandaids to hold it together. To my total amazement, not only was the case secured but the sound was enormously improved, as well. Much more air, while the bottom end was tightened and a lot more musical.
But wait....I found that different bandaids gave dramatically different results. I'm currently using Flintstone Wee Ones from Curad that I have modified by freezing them in CO2 (used a fire extinguisher). The difference is just incredible and they aren't even broken in yet.
Hats off from one 8-tracker to another!
I'm not so sure about the hard disc thing. A DVD holds between 4 and 20 Gigabytes of information ... so if your collection was all in high resolution, than you might have 8,000 Gbytes, a substantial hard disk. Now as technology marches forward there might be such a device but then there is the issue of back-up. I for one will want some form of back-up so that when the hard-drive takes a dump I won't be downloading for ... well lets see with a 1 megabit per second data connection. Um 8 Tbytes would take 64 million seconds, only a little over 2 years. But maybe our high speed access will be better or maybe we won't want high resolution multi-channel audio.
Lots of unknowns but I think your collection won't be obsolete for a while (I hope so for my sake as well).
And you know opnions are just like something else ... everyone has one ... for what it's worth.
Hold on to those CDs man. Another twenty years or so and they will be all the rage. People will collect them and marvel at the sound quality such an old technology can bring. They will marvel at the life-like quality of the recordings. They will go to yard sales, garage sales, pawn shops, specialty shops and will have their brains implanted with tiny chips as a replacement for those E-bay auctions, but without the computer and net connection, and will be able to buy them, sight unseen, from clear around the globe. Hold on to that dream...
The way things are going, the music biz will soon cut off any media that is bit-accesible. You and I are sitting on virtual master tapes! And as upsampling, etc. becomes more refined (and it will) your collection will only become more valuable (and better sounding). I'd not worry.
An article from NY Times regarding the current state of on-line classical music: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/11/arts/music/11KOZI.html
In the future, you won't own recordings at all. You'll subscribe to a service that allows you to download any music you want, at any resolution you want, any time you want.
As for your CDs, there will always be players around, but don't expect much of a market for vintage CDs the way there is (or was, since the market is changing) for vintage vinyl. There is nothing about an old CD that will make it more desirable than a download. (Excepting, of course, those inevitable rarities that aren't available for download.)
As for that hard drive, you can plug a 20-gig iPod into your car stereo already. However much disk space you need, you will have some day.