Embrace the Impermanence of Tech

This article was first published by dmcityview.com

If you figured it out by now, nothing in tech ever lasts. Fading into obscurity almost as fast as and season fashion trend, technology producers and consumers jump from innovation to innovation, from platform to platform, and hardware to hardware without even a glimpse to the past. Whether it's iPods, flip phones, VHS, or even desk tops, technology not only advances but doesn't even hold a public funeral for the gadgets that once ruled our lives. The next former king of the technology empire to sail quietly into the night is CDs, or compact discs.

While today CDs are mainly found in libraries and truck-stop bargain bins, the high fidelity compact disc was once a revelation. First unveiled in the early 80s, by the mid 1990s CDs had completely eclipsed all consumer audio technology. Vinyl LPs were holding on for dear life, audio cassettes were virtually erased from existence, and reports of new release compact disc sales jumping into the millions had become common place. By 1993, CDs were the unquestioned champion of the market, but as ever dramatic film has taught us, the germ of its  demise had already been released onto the world.

Every American music fan alive knows the MP3 pushed audio into the new millennium, but unlike CDs this usurper was more about convenience than quality. CD sales started to dip and interestingly vinyl started to rise from the ashes. Today, 25 years after the MP3 was first unveiled and compact discs looked unbeatable, the end is nigh. Best Buy, the go-to destination for CDS in the 90s, has announced it will no longer sell the physical media in its stores. Similarly Target is attempting to turn its CD sales into a consignment style arraignment, wherein the mega-retailer would only pay for its CD inventory when the merchandise is actually purchased and out the door. While digital sales and streaming might be popular, the revenue generated from therein is paltry compared to the great bounty compact discs hauled.

On the surface this story would seem like a warning to watch your dollars when building a personal library of music, but the fall of the CD is a bellwether for so much more. The future of technology is leaving physical goods behind. Vinyl may be chic but if the industry attempted to subsist on the revenue LPs generated -14 million records sold in 2017- it would cease to exist within two fiscal quarters. No the public's interest in discs, cassettes, and physical media in general has been falling for some time. DVDs and Blurays secretly peaked over ten years ago, with 2007 U.S. sales and rentals topping $23 billion whereas a decade later that same market was unable to reach $10 billion. This is a marketplace with new Star Wars films every year and a the juggernaut of Marvel superhero films pumping out mega-hits every four months. Still consumers have become disinterested in owning any form of entertainment packaged goods.

The real money and interest is in streaming. In 2016 online streaming movie and TV revenue passed physical media for the first time and the trend has only continued. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Vudu, and other popular video streaming services have made up the lost DVD-Bluray sales with more than $10 billion in subscriber revenue. The audience shift is completely transparent when you consider Netflix streaming was unveiled in 2007, the very year DVD and Bluray peaked.

The real question is what future media delivery means that will supplant streaming. For if CDs and DVDs fate were sealed once they reached the top, history tells us some new media innovation is out there right now to up end the market ten years from now.

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb


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