Universal Music's Latest Bet On The Future: People Will Buy Music On Plastic Discs, Right?
from the oh,-so-it's-like-a-CD,-only-more-expensive dept
The years when the compact disc was the preferred audio format were some of the most profitable years in the recording industry's history. Both vinyl fans and cassette collectors purchased albums they already owned in the new format. Why? Convenience. It replaced vinyl's bulkiness with something that could be carried around comfortably by the hundreds, if needed. It also solved the cassette's biggest issue, saving music fans from the tedium of manually rolling the tape to a favorite track via the inexact science of button mashing.
The CD was simply a more convenient format and claimed to be damn near indestructible if properly cared for. (Sadly, the jewel box was rarely up to the task of being the CD's protector, as the all-important CD-holding center pins/braces usually disintegrated upon purchase.)
Clearly, the recording industry would prefer a return to that era, as it has made several attempts to woo buyers back to its shiny discs, offering a variety of audio improvements. The latest advancement in plastic disc technology comes via the Universal
Megalith Music Group.
Universal Music Group recently did a low key introduction of a new hi-res audio format called High Fidelity Pure Audio. The launch was kicked off at the Dolby headquarters in London on June 20th and the format became available in France first, which seemed like a great place to dip the product’s toe in the water without having picky audio journalists noticing.If you haven't felt your heart skip a beat or a surge of mild interest, don't bother checking your pulse. You're very much alive, in contrast to the offering before you. Yet another attempt to reinstate a long-gone profit margin which will be greeted with the sort of public indifference that can scarcely be bothered to expend energy on a shrug.
So what exactly is this stealth format? High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) is basically a Blu-ray disc that delivers 96kHz/24 bit audio recordings in three lossless formats: uncompressed PCM, DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Most discs include the option to download MP3 and lossless FLAC versions of the songs as well. The discs will also play on any Blu-ray player or PS3 device.
If this were a novel experiment, it might be greeted with enthusiasm from a few high-end stereo afficionados and loads of ridicule from everyone else. But it's all been done before and even those willing to throw lots of money at an audio system have bought a ticket for this ride too many times before.
Didn’t we just play this game about 10 years ago with the DVD Audio disc and SACD, formats that both failed miserably? While it’s laudable that Universal is even considering bringing a higher fidelity product to the marketplace, haven’t they learned anything from history?UMG has not. Or if it has, this new format isn't the based on anything it's learned. People may decry the quality of compressed audio, but nothing else comes close to it for portability and convenience, Bobby Owsinski points out.
[I]mprovements in fidelity happened along the way in most formats, but almost as a byproduct of the technology. Nowhere in this stream did the majority of consumers choose to replace a format simply because it sounded better.UMG may think there's an underserved niche market that needs to be filled, but any physical music format at this point is really a niche. I don't think it's actively trying to fill a void as much as it's trying to see how many people are willing to purchase something again in a shiny, new format. That's really not how "repeat business" is supposed to work.
I have to imagine the costs of this effort are going to outweigh the profits, which in an industry that has spent 15 years hollering about how uncomfortable its deathbed is, makes absolutely no sense at all.
[Personal note: visiting the Google-translated High Fidelity Audio Disc site, I was greeted with the following message, possibly indicating I may not be the target audience for this product.]