In the history of the modern popular music industry, a recurrent phenomenon has appeared in the form of the business’s need to adapt to new delivery mechanisms for the distribution of albums and songs to consumers, which later is occasioned by some measure of resistance and reluctance on the part of the industry’s business leaders. Over the course of the 20th century recording industry, new innovations were introduced for distributing music in physical form, each of which seemed to threaten current industry practices by changing the means through which consumers could access music. One particularly major innovation came in the form of compact discs, or cds, which introduced the seeds of long-term change in the form of utilization of digital technology. Consumers who purchased music cds could conceivably make a relatively high-quality copy of the music contained therein and then easily pass the new music cds to other would-be paying customers. Another complaint that arose on the part of consumers, though this criticism more gradually and with more of an aesthetic than a practical basis, as to the small size of cds, which at first had increased their usability by ensuring that music cds were easily transported and stored in comparison to larger formats like vinyl LPs, but also fostered the suspicion that the high prices charged for rather unremarkable-appearing devices were inflated more for the music industry’s convenience than by necessity of the production techniques involved. When relatively high-speed internet became widely available, to some extent the bottom dropped out of the market for music cds, which had been superseded by the digital file formats they initially helped introduce. Illegal downloads of popular music originally released on cds have become widespread through peer to peer sharing websites, as have legitimate music downloads enabled through online formats such as iTunes.
In a move that has been taken as an early sign of what measures the beleaguered music industry might take to adjust its business model to the exigencies of the online age, the world’s largest music company, the Universal Music Group, has announced that as a matter of policy it will be undertaking an experiment in lowering the prices asked for cds. In the press release, reported through Billboard Magazine, Universal Music spread the news that it would be lowering the price of cds released onto the market to $10 or lower. The change will not take effect immediately and is being referred to by Universal Music Group as only a “pricing test,” which will not apply across the board to purchases, but will be limited in its applicability to newly released music cds and then only to those released in the U.S. For all of these provisions, the move is still being looked to by the company and by the executives of other music industry labels as a possible stop-gap measure to fulfill the dual functions of helping to return older fans and introduce younger fans to the habit of looking to cds as a source for music.