If you had read Apple’s terms and conditions when buying music on iTunes (does anyone actually do this? No, me neither), you would know that you actually don't own anything you buy – you are only renting the music for your lifetime. Yesterday, the internet rumour mill suggested that actor Bruce Willis was gearing up to take Apple to court, so that he could pass his collection onto his daughters when he dies. This rumour is, alas, pure fiction, but Apple’s terms and conditions are as real as ever. Legally we are not allowed to pass on our music, in the same way that parents handed down their old vinyls or CDs in times gone by.
The appeal of digital is understandable; within minutes of reading this sentence, you could have anything you like on your mp3 player. But for all the convenience of downloads, stories like these highlight just how few rights you have. Here are four good reasons to keep buying CDs in a digital age:
You really, actually own it. There is an appeal to a shelf stuffed full of CDs that will never be matched by a digital library, no matter how expansive. Of course, you can rip them to mp3 for regular rotation, for maximum convenience. But sometimes that isn’t enough – you want to really listen to it, so you plug it into a good CD player and spend an hour luxuriating in the sound. A real, live collection is a badge for the committed music-lover and anyone who sees it will be able to tell how cool you are by how few of the bands they have heard of.
Besides lyrics, liner notes are a window into the artist’s creative vision, and a chance to express the passion that drives them. This might be through an emotional message to the listener, or a collection of backstage photos, or artwork of fantastical creatures spanning many pages. (Hello, The Fall of Troy fans!) It is an act of respect to look through the notes and see the names of the people who made the album possible, and see what else the band wants to show you.
Used CDs carry their own history, and there is satisfaction in knowing someone enjoyed an album before you found it for £2 in a charity shop - and that someone will enjoy it again after you are finished with it. And if something terrible happens, such as if your favourite singer punches his girlfriend in the face, you can literally set their shitty album on fire.
Downloading may be immediate, but waiting can be much more fun. Few things carry the excitement of receiving a parcel you have waited a fortnight for, covered in beautiful foreign stamps, and containing a super rare edition of Meccano Mind with Japanese bonus tracks. Downloading can’t even touch the excitement of pressing that button.
CD sales are falling year-on-year – and, for the first time, from January to March this year, download revenues overtook CD revenues for the first time. But the Bruce Willis rumours have made us think for a moment about how fragile our connection to digital music really is. In contrast, CDs are safe and trustworthy, and very dear to our hearts. And, best of all, they don’t come with terms and conditions.