A case for changing the CD case, not

March 17, 2008

Okay.  Enough is enough.  With all the innovations in packaging and so called greening of upscale products I still can’t believe I am purchasing music CDs in the same plastic jewel box used since I first got those early Pixies and Nirvana CDs in the “new” format. 


(photo: gearfuse.com) 

Around that time I was hired to do some research for an organization that represented the record companies/distributers re: said packaging.  To no surprise, people in our focus groups hated it and had few problems with an alternative paper sleeve, as long as it could hold the CD in place.  The jewel box (in the US anyway) continues to be the single most difficult mass produced consumer product to open – short of those plastic hang tag packages containing mice and other e-goodies that cut people open every day (a whole ‘nother story). 

The great graphic designer Tibor Kalman, no slouch when it came to recognizing satisfying user experiences, wrote a very funny humor piece for the NY Timesalmost 10 years ago — about this very issue.  Although some artists and small record labels are demanding, and getting, alternative paper packaging, this problem still persists (Starbucks is being slammed for “mainstreaming” their musical offerings, but at least their Hear Music unit has dedicated itself to the more friendly paper packaging).  When they do use paper packaging for limited releases, the big labels use it as a PR device to show their green cred rather than make it their standard practice for all CDs. What are the record companies waiting for?  What are they thinking?

I have some hypotheses/explanations that I hope will be in the spirit of Kalman’s efforts to enlighten us those many years ago:

Anticipation: by making it almost impossible to get to your music the guys in suits are just making that moment when you actually get to play the thing that much sweeter (I once had to wait over an hour and a half for the Rollling Stones to come on after the warm up band left the stage.  Evidently they do this often).

The “album” is dead – The time it takes you to open the CD case correlates roughly to the time you’re saving by not playing the other 8 weak cuts on the album that you probably didn’t want to listen to in the first place.

-Downloads Part I: Why Bother? – the phyisical CD purchase is probably going to be replaced by “0’s” and “1’s,”  say in 10 years or so, so why change anything?

-Downloads Part II: Punishment –  Record execs figure that approx. 50% of all CD purchasers have illegally downloaded some music in the past year.  Why reward these people when they actually purchase the product?  They should all be in jail where they can’t even get near their CD collection or Limewire!

Good for Self Defense –  How many times have you watched a scene in a movie where someone breaks a bottle and threatens to use it as a weapon?  Why not use a jewel case instead?  For those AA folks who don’t have a bottle handy just grab a CD case, hit it against your old Pioneer receiver, and you’ve got a lethal weapon at the ready.  This however, could backfire in that it could be used to thwart off the download police that have just come to arrest you for stealing that new Vampire Weekend single you downloaded from that site in the Ukraine.