A tower of plastic, and a photographic reflection on the strange physical form music took at the height of the CD. Photo (CC-BY-SA) William Hook.

Can music as a physical object have value and meaning again? For many music enthusiasts, that affection has turned back to the vinyl record, not the CD. (How many artists have we seen lately offering vinyl as the “premium” package for listeners?) At an extreme, there’s Alessandro Cortini’s SuONOIO, an album that has its own accompanying custom synthesizer.

But while we ponder this question, the one that seems the perpetual topic for music conferences and industry pundits, I turn instead to this (tongue-in-cheek) description of CD shipping. Given the record sales for many independent artists, maybe this parody isn’t actually so far-fetched.

If you’ve never ordered a physical CD Baby CD, you may not have seen it before. I can tell you it amused and delighted the person who got it, though (it wasn’t me), so never underestimate the value of caring for your musical customer.

Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, August 6, 2010.
We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
We miss you already. We’ll be right here at http://cdbaby.com/, patiently awaiting your return.

Yes, it’s parody. Yes, I’m doing a brief fluff blog post. (Refunds available.) Yes, I’m thinking about how some of this (sadly, not the private jet) might actually be possible as part of the music retail experience.

And really, don’t your fans and listeners deserve as much?


Updated – do some people care as much as the imaginary employees in this description?

Absolutely. See a line of handmade CD cases on Etsy, a a how-to on CD cases, limited-edition handmade CDs used as a fundraiser, and a whole mess of handmade CDs and merch found at this project site — including a special giveaway at MUM concerts.


Doing a special ritual when someone buys one — optional.

  • I remember getting that from CD Baby. I thought it was awesome! 🙂

  • Jon

    That's a standard email response that CD Baby has been sending out since Derek Sivers ran the place 10 years ago. The company is now owned by the same people that own Discmakers and are awful to deal with both from the artist standpoint and the customer.

    Hopefully readers of this blog are smart enough to avoid CDBaby entirely.

  • @Jon: Yeah, it definitely feels like Derek's viewpoint on the matter. That said, do you have a CD Baby alternative you suggest?

  • Michael Coelho

    While I listen exclusively to digital versions of my music these days, I have never again experienced the appreciation of music as object that I had when vinyl records were the primary way of consuming music. The hours I spent fondly looking at album art and reading liner notes…That being said, I'm not overly anxious to hook up a turntable again. Convenience has trumped the vinyl experience. I remember hearing a lot of noisy, scratched records back in the day even though I submitted to the ritual of cleaning my records and cartridge before every listening and stored them them in special protective sleeves.

  • Polite

    I still love my CDs, and while when out or at work i listen to mp3s, i tend to listen to my music on cds at home. Admittedly I've long run out of space for all of them on my shelves, and i have a considerable amount of mess due to the stacks of cds in various rooms.

  • vinyl will always rule over digital music, nothing beats the feel of getting on the 1210's and mixing 2 pieces of music. but i am a firm believer that things have to move forward and the even Cd's are kinda a thing of the past now with the new pioneer CDJ's out with there usb interface.

    Less mess more music!!


  • "Baby alternative?"

    Well for the independent artist. Bandcamp seems to be the best service offering both lossless&lossy formats but it's sticky file based at this time.
    If your wanting to offer physical media amazon on demand is the current winner in my book. It's reminiscent of the good ole mp3.com days. available thru distribution services like tuncore.

  • Jon

    @Peter As far as fulfillment goes, Nimbit. For digital distribution; TuneCore. The bands I've been working with have all been creating PayPal shopping carts for their websites and doing the mailing themselves.

    The cost of the transaction (with PayPal) is less than $2 versus the $4 CD Baby takes from the artist. Bear in mind that CD Baby also adds hefty shipping costs on top of the 'retail price' which translates to added expense to the buyer, none of which the artist sees.

    I was selling a $6 EP awhile ago and getting only $2 per unit sold from CD Baby. Take into consideration the cost of making the CD (about $1) plus the cost to ship it to CD Baby, and essentially I wasn't making any money for a CD I created, and CD Baby was the one profiting.

    This issue was even worse when you opt in for volume discounts. A retailer in Germany had bought 15 copies of one of my titles (and I opted for a volume discount) and my net from CD Baby for this transaction was $0.00. So basically I handed CD Baby my product to profit from and didn't make a dime. Their response was "oh well you opted in for the volume discount".

    The tipping point for me was when I asked CD Baby to ship my CD's (a different title, a full length in jewel case) back to me so I can include a sticker inside the case and ship it back to CD Baby. When I received my CD's they were stuffed in a manilla (NON PADDED) envelope and all the cases were cracked and CD's scratched.

    I apologize for using this forum to vent my frustration but hope that fellow artists on the site consider all their options before submitting to the beast. If you go onto Derek Siver's blog and read people's comments (and even his own) you'll see that everyone from the good ol' days of CD Baby shares this sentiment.

    In short: Learn to use PayPal's (FREE) shopping cart (fees are 1.5% to 3% depending on how the customer pays), or check out Nimbit, or Tunecore.