My almost 8-yr old recently received from Subway one of the lamest kids' meal prizes I've seen in a while - and that's saying something. The "prize" is a very cheap little CD-holder that holds all of 2 CD's. So many questions: First of all, what's the point of a CD-holder that only holds 2 CDs? Second of all, what's the percentage of kids ordering kids' meals who own CDs and need a place - outside of their natural cases - to store them? And yet, inevitably, my daughter loves it. As it happens, I had recently burned 3 CDs for her of music she likes since she has an old bookshelf 3-CD player in her room. Of course, the first thing she wanted to do when she got home was to remove the CDs from the player (which actually extracts music from them) and put them into the Subway holder.
She later proudly brought one to me to play on the computer. I told her that the music was already on the computer and I could play it more easily without the CD, but that clearly wasn't the point. Quite by coincidence, she received a nice CD as a gift yesterday and immediately wanted to insert it into the Subway case - even thought it was packaged nicely in its own case. In fact, at this point she's clearly more interested in the new CD as something to put in the holder than as something to listen to. It's not that she doesn't like music (quite the contrary, I'm happy to report), but she's simply revealing the meaning we all tend to find in owning something - and that meaning can be applied to something as seemingly unownable as sounds of music (not to mention the bizarre pride of ownership that is routinely attached to crummy kids' meal toys).
I don't know for sure if this is good or bad. Like most such human quirks, it's a mixed bag. Geoff Edgers recently mentioned the emptiness he felt seeing that music is now being sold on USB memory sticks, but at least you still get something to hold that might have a cool logo on it. With digital downloads, you don't get anything except some more entries in your iTunes - and the always annoying iTunes e-mail receipt that arrives a few days later. (Those always kill me. Sometimes it's two days later and I've completely forgotten I made the impulse buy. Reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's riff about getting a check at the end of a big meal.)
So it is that when I finish up my monthly pillaging* of eMusic.com (often amounting to about 6 hours of music for $9.99), I never feel anything like the sense of satisfaction I used to feel walking out of Tower Records with 5 or 6 CDs. I've even built an eMusic purchases playlist in iTunes so that I can look at all I've accumulated, add up the total track times, etc. I tell myself I'm doing that to keep track of my purchases and remember to listen to them, but the truth is it's my small way of taking pride in ownership.
This is one reason I believe the e-commerce/download model can work for music, in spite of all the inherent pirating possibilities. People actually enjoy knowing they've invested their own money in something; it makes it more satisfying and meaningful. I'm always amazed that, as already overpriced as Red Sox tickets are, fans can't get enough of merchandise that is also overpriced. It's not the T-shirt or hat that really matters, of course; it's the ability to feel invested in the team. In much the same way, people will pay to download what they could pretty easily steal, and I think it has as much to do with pride of ownership as it does basic honesty. Of course, I'm very cynical . . .
[You know, that's it. I'm sick of half-finishing posts and not posting them because I've lost my blogging momentum. I'm posting this, and hopefully will get back on track soon. Sometimes, you've got to work through a slump.]
* By the way, I'm not that naive. I know eMusic is happy to get my monthly $9.99, no matter how many megabytes I walk away with.