by | Sep 7, 2003 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Last week, one of the biggest players in the music business announced it was lowering the price of CDs. Universal Music Group, which boasts big artists like Eminem, Shania Twain and Mary J. Blige, said it was dropping its list prices from $18.98 to $12.98. That’s a huge drop! About 30 percent! And as a music lover, I might be really excited!

Were it not for Sgt. Pepper.

Actually, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the legendary Beatles album many consider to be among the best records ever made. I loved that album. Back in the ’60s, when it first came out, I bought it right away. And I played it constantly.

And then, a few years later, I got an eight-track player. So I bought Sgt. Pepper on eight track.

And then a few years later, I got a car, and I put in a cassette player. And so, of course, I had to buy Sgt. Pepper on cassette.

(It is true, I could have recorded my album onto cassette, except that albums, made of vinyl, wear out the more you play them, and I had played Sgt. Pepper about 14,523 times, and it was so scratchy that not only could I not hear any
“Paul is dead” references, I often couldn’t hear Paul.

(Anyhow, I tried recording my scratchy album to cassette the old-fashioned way
— by holding up a microphone to my record player. But this only made the cassette come out even more noisy, until John Lennon sounded like Edward R. Murrow.

(So I broke down and bought a cassette copy.)

And that makes three versions of Sgt. Pepper.

And we’re not done yet.

More technology, more Beatles

After college, they came out with audiophile vinyl versions of Sgt. Pepper. By this point, I owned a nice little stereo, and naturally, I wanted to hear my beloved album in the finest fidelity, so I purchased it again, in this new format, with a special thick plastic sleeve. And I thought, “Well, that makes four versions of Sgt. Pepper.”

And then came CDs.

And that made five.

Now, I’m not even going to mention the audiophile CD format, or the Super Bit mapping formats, or the DVD audio formats, or the six channel formats. I pretty much bailed out after CDs because 1) I couldn’t afford any more versions and 2) I had no space and 3) I was really mad at the music companies because, unlike other formats, the longer CDs were around, the more expensive they got.

That’s right. Explain THAT to me. When computers first came out, you had to pay $500 for a Commodore 64, which basically did nothing but turn on and off. Now, for $500, you get Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Cell phones, when they first came out, cost a fortune and were as big as a bread loaf. Now they fit in your pocket and stores give them away when you purchase something. (Pretty soon, owners will just open the door and start throwing little cell phones at you, saying, “Here! Take them! I have no room! Please!”)

Let’s face it. Anything having to do with technology, from cameras to Palm Pilots, has come out at a high price and dropped like a stone, getting better as it got cheaper.

Except CDs.

The cheaper alternative

CDs actually got MORE expensive. When they first came out, you’d see $14.98. Then you saw $15.98. And suddenly, you saw $18.98. And I KNOW they were making more of them and it was costing less. But for some reason, the music industry kept those prices up, up, up, while everything technological was going down, down, down, until eventually, our kids began to steal, steal, steal.

And they got really good at it.

So good, in fact — using the Internet as their weapon — that the music industry can’t stop it. They’ve gone to the police. They’ve gone to Congress. It still goes on. And so now, facing losses of billions of dollars, what does the music industry do?

It lowers its prices.

Sorry, guys. You’re about five versions too late. Kids get music with a little help from their friends.

And I’m still mad about the whole eight-track thing.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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