The price/value relationship between CDs and their digital counterparts is screwed up. That’s really not news to anyone who buys music, but with the introduction of Amazon’s “auto-rip,” the equation gets even weirder.

Example: John Lee Hooker’s album “It Serves You Right To Suffer.”

On Amazon, the mp3 album of “Suffer” is $7.92.  Same price on iTunes. But if I buy the CD through Amazon, it’s only $3.99. I’d pay a little tax, but shipping is free if I’m willing to wait three to five days. So I can get a theoretically better quality copy of the album, for less money.

But wait, there’s more: with my CD copy of “Suffer,” Amazon throws in a free instant mp3 copy of the album. That’s auto-rip.

So now I’m either spending $7.92 for just the mp3, or $3.99 for the cd and the mp3. To reiterate the obvious: buying the cd is a.) cheaper, b.) gets me a theoretically better copy of the material, since CDs aren’t compressed the way mp3s are and c.) still gets me the music I want right now.

So what’s the digital copy of the album really worth: $7.92, $3.99, or nothing, since it’s thrown in “for free”?

From the consumer’s side, the only way paying more for the mp3 makes sense is if you regard owning CDs as a minus, not a plus. Truth is I’m getting to the point where even though I want to buy more music, I’d just as soon do without the shiny silver discs – but that’s assuming I can get the same quality, the artwork and liner notes, and get it all for a reasonable price. So far, the major labels won’t go there, and I guess that’s because they still control more of the silver-disc-and-cardboard-sleeve business than the download side, and figure they can force me to keep buying physical product. They’re right, but it’s inconvenient and maddening and at some point I may just say “Screw the quality” (my hearing’s not that great anyway) and put my music money exclusively into downloads.


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