I've been on a CD buying spree lately. (Watch this space for lots of reviews coming soon!) Not because I suddenly became rich, but because I'm beginning to experience some minor difficulties obtaining the discs I want to purchase lately - particularly new releases. A title might be available here, but not in the UK - and vice-versa. And if I wait for a better price, I might find it's nowhere to be found a week or two down the road. So I've adopted a "get it while you can" approach and am making more on-the-spot purchases, even if it ends up costing a little more. And I've been buying lots of back-catalog titles on the used market before they are gone forever.
I usually shop Amazon.com (utilizing their many terrific MarketPlace sellers) and Presto Classical in the UK, searching for the best prices and most reliable availability and shipping. But problems are beginning to appear.
Take ArkivMusic, for example, which is sometimes a good source for Classical CDs. Or ... it used to be. Their online site has been down for months. Their website comes up as "Store Closed", but there is a brief disclaimer stating they're "working on system updates" but trying to fulfill outstanding orders. Oh, and: "Be Back Soon!" Riiiight ... this status has continued for months. And I'm not particularly surprised by this, as I have never considered Arkiv to be a viable source for frequent, quantity buying - as regards to availability ("out of stock" appears predominantly) or pricing (their insistence upon listing everything at full retail price, plus shipping costs). But, still, I hate to see yet another resource go away. In addition, I've noticed the Amazon MarketPlace seller "ClassicalMusicSuperstore" seems to have disappeared.
Even more troubling, though, is what I'm beginning to see from some of the labels. We've been witnessing dwindling numbers of new releases each month for quite some time (and SACDs are becoming rare). But now I'm finding some of them discontinuing back catalog titles and either reissuing them solely via Download or simply eliminating them altogether. For example, many back-catalog titles from Pentatone have been discontinued, only to reappear as Download only. Worse, at least one label has eliminated its entire CD catalog altogether, making the switch to 100% download only, and even removed its online store from the internet with only a brief statement that they're "restructuring". This makes me sad.
Further, I've even witnessed a few new releases from the likes of BIS and Chandos inexplicably delayed this year, which has me very worried. Is this simply the result of production and/or supply chain issues, or is something else going on we don't know about yet?
And of course we've been witnessing for years entire labels disappearing - hostile takeovers by the big boys buying up other labels (think Warner and SONY), eliminating the competition. Remember the good ol' days when new releases consisted of real diversity - titles from Virgin and EMI, RCA and CBS, Philips, Conifer, et al? And to a lesser degree, Erato and Teldec. Today, it's all Warner - who can't even give credit to those legacy labels, slapping the "Erato" logo on everything (AS IF Erato has anything to do with it) - and SONY. And all those much-lamented classic labels which have simply ceased to exist over the years (Telarc, Delos, Dorian, ASV, Collins, MCA, CALA, Koss, ProArte, Vox, etc., not to mention the real classics like Mercury, Westminster, etc.).
Thankfully we have a fantastic group of small, independent specialty labels which still produce a wealth of wonderful Classical CD releases. At least for now. And to be fair, some bigger labels have demonstrated a continued commitment to Classical music, though definitely "star-power" and profit driven rather than a focus on distinction or innovation - with endless reissues being their mainstay. (SONY and DG are prime examples.)
I'm old-fashioned; I'm a CD guy. I've been an avid collector of Classical compact discs (an obsession, really) for nearly 40 years and have amassed close to 9,000 of them. I like the cover art. I like reading the booklets. I like the ability to load the disc and play with the remote control and listen in any way I want to. But I'm also an audiophile. So, most of all, I like the excellent sound quality I achieve from playing CDs on my high-quality stereo system, which I have been assembling and fine-tuning with quality components and cables for decades. I simply do not want to do downloads. Period.
But I'm no dummy. I'm seeing the writing on the wall. I'm already witnessing a substantial decrease in Classical SACD releases. They simply are not cost-effective to produce (apparently). But now, CDs are becoming harder and harder to find too, with back-catalog titles disappearing forever. I realize I may have no choice and will one day have to give the downloading thing a whirl. But I'm not there yet.
I can rest easy knowing I have enough CDs in my collection to listen to for the rest of my life, probably without ever listening to the same one twice. So as long as CD players can still be purchased when mine finally breaks down, I'm set. (That's another matter altogether, though; SACD players are becoming very rare and good CD players are not exactly plentiful these days.) But how disappointing would it be to one day be denied the pleasure of perusing the new release lists and deciding which new CDs to buy?