iPod: "Grand Theft Audio"?


December's issue of Wired Magazine takes a look at the ever-growing numbers of CDRWs, blank CDR sales and the decline of on-line file swapping. And MP3 devices like the iPod are to blame.

For Paul Boutin at Wired, sneakernet - CDs traded on the playground or the street - is now the dominant orthodoxy of music swapping, not the internet. With Napster's death, says Boutin, people turn to their CDRWs - and they're "not using them for backups", in the words of one Gartner analyst quoted in the article.

For the music industry, the statistics must be daunting: 140 million CDRWs; burners bundled with almost every desktop PC and a growing number of notebooks; an estimated 6 billion blank CDRs sold worldwide in 2002; and 40x burners have become commonplace, allowing a full CD copy in around 3 minutes on today's fast hardware.

iPod Go-Go

No longer do people have to burn piles of CDs. In an hour, says Boutin, he could dump his friend's entire CD collection onto an iPod [This would make it a fairly small music collection from where I'm coming from; but we've all got to start somewhere - Ed.].

As Boutin says, "With an iPod in my pocket, I don't bother asking for CD recommendations anymore. I drag and drop my friends' entire jukeboxes. Rip 'em now, decide what to play later."

Yes, iTunes does have built-in copy protection, but Boutin goes on: "A free utility called iPod2iTunes makes cloning my friends' iPods a plug-and-play operation."

Analysis: There isn't anything the iPod does that couldn't be done on a portable or 3.5" FireWire drive - which are available in much greater capacities than iPods and for a lot less. In this respect, it's unfair to make iPod the scapegoar, as this can be done with any FireWire/USB 2.0 hard drive. In fact, iTunes' limitations (I assume that similar restrictions are built into MusicMatch's iPod Windows software) stop at least the less-than-technically-savvy user from instantly sharing MP3 collections.

And backups? I'd make more CDR backups per week than audio CDs by a country mile. Maybe that's odd. But DVD-R is my next storage option and it won't be (primarily) to burn audio CDs.

And, despite the RIAA's claim that burnt CDRs account for the steep decline in audio CD sales, I recall similar arguments were made about audio cassettes in the 1980s. Are CDRs really that much more proliferate? Who couldn't tape a record or CD over the last, say, 15 years?