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Thought : Does physical media have a future?
Your gut response to this question will have a lot to do with how you consume and access your music on a daily basis. Are you a sit down and appreciate a CD in its entirety kind of person, or plugged into your iPod on shuffle?
It's not hard to see why increasingly the latter is the case. The massive storage capacity (in terms of tracks relative to an audio CD) and sheer portability of most of today's mp3 players gives you a pocket music library. Add to that the ability to instantly access new music on a track-by-track or album basis and you've got a pretty compelling case for the online distribution model.
In the past one of the principal advantages of Audio CD has been audio quality. But while the emerging online standard of DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) 256kbps mp3 may be way off audiophile standards, for 99% of us 99% of the time, it does the job just fine. And the reality is that time and time again consumers will pick convenience over quality and the high-street music retailers are feeling this pinch.
In terms of a long-term trajectory, music's future seems to be in non-physical formats. We don't really have a blu-ray equivalent waiting in the wings to replace Audio CD and the last attempt at a new physical audio format, MiniDisc, has now all but died a death. Today we are growing to accept that all our information, entertainment and communications comes piped through devices connected to the internet.
Pulling back from this Orwellian vision for a moment, it's easy to get carried away with the idea of loosing access to your entire music library, or having the kind of music you can access determined by some central authority. For the foreseeable  future both subscription and pay-as-you-go options will sit side by side and with the ever increasing volumes of consumer created content,  access to diverse media is pretty much guaranteed. Clearly even Audio CD isn't going away any time soon, people are still buying them, if mostly to them rip to their computer. But we should still spare a thought for what will follow and try to avoid the erosion of our control over the content we pay for.
iTunes unlimited?: many online music stores now offer subscription all-you-can-eat models, could something similar be coming to iTunes soon?
The subscription model certainly has much in its favour, offering all-you-can-eat options and giving you instant access to a vast music library. It makes exploring new music and new artists risk-free, and you'll always have the latest chart topper at you fingertips. It offers the ultimate convenience and if it catches on could even substantially reduce music piracy. Think of it as like an music extra on your internet access, some industry watchers are even suggesting that that's what it could become with ISPs as the guardians of access to online media.
Although for the time being local storage and download are king in the online music world, it's not impossible to imagine a future where all our media lives on central media servers and is streamed rather than accessed locally. We already entrust much of our email, photos and other documents to 'the cloud', so why not music too?
So bad news for disc manufacturers and record stores, but there is a second issue that feeds from this that could mean potential bad news for consumers too. . . With falling physical ownership of content we're also seeing falling permanent ownership of content. That is to say the music or film you just paid to downloaded isn't really in your possession, your access to it controlled by a time-limited rental or subscription model, both of which can expire.
Will the CD collection soon become a thing of the past?