A Cynic Writes
Our Price Of Progress
Last year, the Office of Fair Trading reached a not altogether surprising conclusion following its investigation into record pricing. I quote: "The high price of CDs is explained by the fact that producers and retailers have taken advantage of the willingness of consumers to pay a higher price for the perceived higher quality of the CD." The argument that 'better must cost more' is not a new one, and no doubt it will be trotted out again to justify the higher prices we'll all be expected to pay for Digital Compact Cassettes and MiniDiscs. Undoubtedly the introduction of new formats does provide interested parties with an excuse to hike up their prices. In fact, a spokesperson for the BPI was recently quoted as saying, "Tapes are too cheap. When we launch DCC and MiniDisc there will be parity between prices" - meaning that the new formats will cost as much as CDs.
Rather more surprisingly, then, the OFT also found that there was "no evidence to suggest any collusion between either record producers or retailers", and consequently concluded that there was no action they could take to "stimulate a sharper degree of price competition". Oh yeah?
How can it be healthy for the production and distribution of recorded music in the UK to be all but completely controlled by a mere handful of multinational record companies and a single retail company? And isn't there something just a little bit dodgy about at least one of these multinationals producing the hardware (ie. CD players, MiniDisc players) on which the software (ie. music) they sell is played?
But what really pisses me off is the part the exorbitant cost of CDs has played in creating today's climate of stifling musical conservatism. Quite simply, CDs are just too damned expensive for the majority of people to do anything other than play safe in their buying habits - hence the runaway success of compilations and back-catalogue reissues.
Isn't it about time someone took a lead and started to release music at a sensible price? Maybe then the music-buying public would be more inclined to take a chance on the untried and untested.
(Brian Aspirin is extremely unwell)
Opinion by Reg Smeeton
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