Time to Kiss the Compact Disc Goodbye (Thanks, Netflix!)

  • Share
  • Read Later

It’s not something you think about most days. In fact, it’s almost taken for granted: The compact disc’s days as a viable medium for music are nearly over. Oh, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You use iTunes, or something like it. You’ve probably purchased music online and know, for better or worse, what music-related torrent files are.

But you haven’t heard it all. For instance, this editorial in the October 2011 issue of Sound on Sound suggests that the CD’s demise has everything to do with..Netflix?

(MORE: Why Netflix’s Price Hike Doesn’t Bother Me)

Yes, Netflix. As you know, Netflix recently hiked the price of its per-month combo streaming and DVD rental fee from $10 to $16. Consumers—mostly those with no sense of what they were (and still are) getting, value-wise—freaked out. But the writing’s on the wall: DVD rentals are on the way out, unlimited streaming (which costs just $8 a month with Netflix) is the way forward.

Or as Sound on Sound‘s Dan Daley puts it: “The more expensive fee for the DVD option reflects the higher cost of making, shipping and handling physical media, and now that the two formats are so distinctly delineated, it will likely hasten the death of optical discs, including CDs, as an entertainment‑distribution format.”

How are the two linked? Simple economies of scale. Retail disc-based rental is in permanent decline, CD sales are half what they were 10 years ago and now Netflix, which had been shipping a million video discs a day, has introduced a plan to basically put the brakes on its optical-media mailers. This, argues Daley, “will serve to further depress the optical‑disc manufacturing base, which has already seen global capacity for manufacturing decline precipitously.”

“While consumers angrily lambasted Netflix for upping prices,” he continues, “the economics behind the move are clear: streaming a file costs far less than making and mailing a disc that will eventually wear out from handling and exposure, and nudging consumers to drop discs in favor of files will be very good for the bottom line in the long run.”

And as DVD demand bottoms out, so will optical-media manufacturing plants. It’s the sort of inverse compound interest that piles up at the crossing of thresholds—never neat and tidy or precisely predictable in terms of timelines, but we’re well past the event horizon here and simply waiting out the protracted death spin.

In fact for some, the moment’s already arrived. Auto manufacturer Ford admitted a few months ago that it would drop CD players from its fleet of vehicles entirely, switching over to—what else?—a USB-based audio interface.

MORE: Netflix Signs On DreamWorks, but Is It Enough?

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.