Digital Downloads VS. Physical Media
I’ve been recording and producing high-resolution audio for almost 15 years now. In the beginning, I replicated two sided DVD-Audio/Video discs. One side was the DVD-Audio formatted music (high-resolution 96 kHz/24-bit MLP encoded in 5.1 surround) and the other side was formatted as DVD-Video with 96 kHz/24-bit stereo PCM and then videos with either Dolby Digital (AC-3) or DTS lossy audio in 5.1 surround.
At that time it was inconceivable that high-resolution audio files could be uploaded and downloaded like the highly compressed formats sold by iTunes and others. But as bandwidth and the memory capacity of portable music players increased, the idea of high-resolution downloads was imaginable. I saw it coming as far back as 2005 when a high-end retailer from South Africa contacted me in a panic about needing some high-resolution surround music files for a demo that he had planned for the next morning. I told him that I could set up a file transfer and get him several selections in time to present to his client.
It took all night to send 10 gigabytes via an FTP transfer but he got the files and was able to play them without any problems. That was the moment that I started developing the iTrax.com, the world’s first high-resolution digital music retail site. I saw the possibilities in 2005 and halfway through 2007 the site was up and selling high-resolution files in both stereo and surround. In fact, customers could purchase a whole variety of formats to match their preference and hardware.
But the download business was a trickle compared to sales of our physical products. I would guesstimate that 80% of our revenue was generated by sales of DVDs and Blu-rays and 20% was coming from downloads when we first got started. But things have shifted in the intervening years. I receive an email for every purchase. My tracking system identifies the iTrax purchases and the AIX Records sales…and these days it’s about an even split between the downloads and the physical discs. Why? What has been happening to cause this drift towards downloads?
First, you should understand that purchasing the physical discs are a better value. The discs contain multiple presentations of the music. There’s two 5.1 surround mixes (“stage” and “audience”), a high-resolution 96/24 PCM stereo mix, and on some discs even Headphones[xi]™ and preripped 320 kbps MP3 files are included on the ROM section. Such a deal, right? And that’s not even counting the videos, the bonus features, the booklet etc. When a customer purchases a single 5.1 high-resolution album download on iTrax, the cost is around $20…and you get only that single mix. The physical discs are definitely a better deal.
But the trend is definitely heading towards downloads. iTrax.com offers music from a wide variety of labels. Morten Lynberg’s 2L and Harmonia Mundi are represented as well as SFS Media and Sony Masterworks…but only the productions that were actually recorded in high-resolution. No analog tape transfers or upconversions.
I thank Sony and Sprint for their help in promoting iTrax. When I got hooked up with Sony and learned of their high-resolution audio initiative, I was thrilled to be included on their site. In spite of my position on DSD (which I pointedly discussed with them), they have featured iTrax as a provider of very high quality music downloads on their site. And my recent association with Sprint has resulted in another boost to our traffic on iTrax.com.
iTrax is a very small site compared to HDtracks and Qobuz and the others…but we are profitable and growing. The new version of the downloader is in testing right now and I hope to have the new 2.0 version completed very soon. I know I’ve said that before, but things are really moving along.
I know my wife is much happier about the popularity of our download site over physical shipments. There’s a lot work in getting products picked packed and shipped…and then there’s the trip to the post office. Someday, we’ll run out of physical discs and everything will be a download. Someday, but it’s still a ways off.
7 thoughts on “Digital Downloads VS. Physical Media”
I think your “stage” mixes are the best!!! Especially with the orchestral recordings where you hear what the conductor is hearing! We could use more of that!!! Follow your emails, they are great and informative. What I would like to know is what you think of some of the other “hi-def” players that are out there. There are several iPod-like players that are capable of playing all sorts of hi-def files, including DSD. I am curious what you recommend.
I just noticed a announcement for a new SONY high-resolution walkman. My recommendation would be to avoid all of the portable dedicated music players and go with a Smartphone hat does the same thing and much more. The HTC M8 Harman Kardon Edition from Sprint is a great audio player and phone.
Always like the physical media. Artwork, liner notes, etc. LP’s are great because I can still see the letters! The physical media is good to rip to the format and location that I choose.
It’s true that having discs is pretty cool. I’m going to implement some sort of “get the files” coupon with physical media.
I am delighted to read that iTrax is growing. Long may it play. Off to have another look at it now. Still loving Order of Distinction on 5.1 Stage. I haven’t even noticed the inevitable rounding off of the bits as they tumbled inside the wires all the way to Australia!
It’s pointless to have a physical CD these days because your computer hard disk can contain the same exact information. But Vinyl LPs will continue to thrive, even if they are an underground minority. They last much longer than any compact disc or computer.