The future of the CD may not be very bright, but it is still burning

Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 01:00

REVOLVER:IT’S SO SIMPLE, you can’t believe it’s taken this long: Use an easy-to-navigate touch screen to browse thousands of music albums. Pick the one you want and, in all of 90 seconds, you have your CD, complete with the normal sleeve and artwork, in your hands. And all for €3.70 (at current exchange rates).

“Disc on Demand” is the game- changing new initiative from retail giant Tesco. It’s currently being trialed in two of Tesco’s UK stores, with plans to roll it out all across Britain and Ireland within months.

The “pick and burn” option is already proving hugely popular with customers. What impresses most is how the finished product is virtually indistinguishable from the “normal” release of an album. And at €3.70 a pop, you’re looking at what could amount to a “rescue package” for the almost forgotten CD format.

What’s significant about the cost-cutting initiative is that this isn’t some half-baked idea from a start-up. Tesco is Critical Mass territory, with the financial wherewithal to really push this service. And what prices like this do to competitors can only be a good thing for benighted consumers, who wants every possible bang for their buck these days.

The trusty CD has taken a battering from the digital download/ streaming sectors, and although it’s been completely written off many a time now, it’s proven more resilient than anyone thought.

There is still a substantial music- buying population out there who simply want a physical product in their hands.

The added import of “Pick and Burn” is that it’s not just CDs on offer, but also TV shows and films. The home-entertainment spend has never been bigger, with people recoiling from gig/cinema prices and preferring the convenience of the watch/listen to what I want when I want model.

With this type of service, there is no such think as stock ever being “unavailable”, and the benefits for the store is that it can supply thousands of entertainment titles across music, film and TV without sacrificing any precious floor space.

HMV is seemingly in permanent financial crisis and ye olde indie record shops are forever struggling with changing consumption patterns. In a recession, there’s no room for sentiment. The bottom line is that Tesco’s offer on music, film and TV is simply too good to ignore.

Tesco certainly seems to have a long-term entertainment spend strategy in place. A few months ago, it bought a 91 per cent stake in the streaming service We7 (once a real rival to Spotify) for almost €13.5 million. How it revamps that and what sort of pricing structure it offers will be closely watched.

It’s a curious thing that all the smart action is now taking place in the supermarket sector. Earlier this summer Sainsbury’s bought a 64 per cent stake in ebook retailer Anobii, and just a few weeks ago, it partnered with Rovi to offer a digital video service. This will give shoppers video-on-demand and downloadable copies of big film and TV titles.

There’s a bigger picture with the Rovi partnership. Initially, shoppers will be limited to playback on their computers, but in the near future the digital video service will be available for Smart TVs and mobiles.

This rush of activity from supermarket giants is in marked contrast to how the traditional labels and film studios are still faffing around with ventures that no one is interested in. Music and film consumption has changed beyond recognition, and the reason why supermarkets are now leading the charge – entertainment wise – is that theirs is an industry economically based on finding out what people want and giving it to them cheaply. It’s the old pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap directive.

And when money is tight, Every Little Helps.

Mixedbag

* It was one of the best – if most eccentric – music reads ever. Now Bob Dylan has confirmed that a sequel to Chronicles is underway.

* This year’s MOBO nominations: reads like a reality TV show sleepover.

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