Japan Still Loves CDs

Hey there, been awhile huh? ūüôā

Last year I noticed a lot of¬†blog posts and articles about Japan being behind in its transition to digital music, still clinging to CDs, as one writer put it, “like it’s 1995.” Indeed, the Oricon chart started following music downloads in 2006 but stopped after a VERY short time because there wasn’t enough money for the labels in selling downloads yet, so industry insiders still didn’t care about download numbers. Japan is only just now getting a decent selection of streaming music services like LINE Music.

While the competitive (in a “high school politics” sense, not a business or financial sense) and protectionist nature of the industry is a big factor in this highly delayed adoption of digital music, consumer demand for streaming music WOULD have made¬†the transition happen faster than it’s happened. The honest truth is… In Asia, physical CD releases are just REALLY COOL. And have been for ages! In 2003 when people started pirating music, Japan tried the CCCD thing for awhile, but backlash against it was pretty heavy – the music playing software that came on the disc played it back in really crappy quality that sounded horribly distorted & scratchy, especially if you had even halfway decent speakers or headphones. So Japan started transitioning to CD+DVD packages to give people more incentive to purchase physical releases (during a time when DVD rips of videos weren’t worth the trouble, considering people had seen the videos on TV already), and it mostly worked.

The idea of packaging a music release¬†in a way that makes the release itself, and not just the music, desirable to possess is just something that never caught on in the western world for music. And yet we see it with PC (and sometimes console) games all the time – limited edition bonuses like DVDs, statuettes, DLC, and art books are so common for games.¬†But only in Asia do I see this “cool packaging” thing carry over into things like music. Which is silly to me – you can manufacture cool bonuses REALLY cheaply and people will pay a lot extra for it JUST because it’s limited edition.

The articles I’ve seen that address Japan’s love of physical media talk about the meet and greet tickets in AKB48 CDs, but they don’t mention the prevalence of foil lettering, digipacks, keychains, figures, and photobooks. They don’t mention the CD plus DVD combo packs including all the music videos from the album. Then there’s the intersestingly shaped packages, the display boxes, the hardcover lyric books… I may come back to to this post with photos of some of my CDs. It’s amazing.

The west has had SOME CDs that have interesting packaging or bonuses… Matchbox 20’s Mad Season had a limited hardcover book digipack. Tori Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk had so many bonuses inside its box that it wasn’t qualified to be on the charts in the UK because it no longer counted as a music release anymore. The recent prevalence of limited edition vinyl¬†– particularly picture discs, who admittedly sacrifice audio quality for detailed colors – shows that people in the west ARE interested in collectible, cool-looking versions of music releases.

So why isn’t cool CD packaging more of a thing here?

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