Here's the deal: I'm getting down to the wire with the upcoming IJG release, LEEF (I hope to have it ready in plenty of time for our upcoming California tour). But I've been pondering the mechanics of the follow-through. To wit: I'm seriously considering putting LEEF out in a CD jacket instead of a jewel case.
That's right, I'm talking about a flat cardboard CD sleeve -- either 2-panel or 4-panel. (Not a digipack. I haven't entirely dismissed digipaks as of yet, but they're not my favorite option.) I'm also looking into the possibility of putting the disc in a JakeBox, but my research on that option is still incomplete.
As I've said before, I'm not yet ready to go download-only (much as I'd like to), mostly because we actually sell CDs at gigs and I don't want to lose that income. But I like the idea of getting away from jewel cases. Here are my top three reasons:
1. CDs-in-jackets are more environmentally friendly (no plastic, aside from (optional) shrink-wrap and the plastic in the center of the disc itself),
2. they are easier to tote to gigs, and
3. they are cheaper to manufacture (in a per-panel sense).
More philosophically, there is the whole question of the CD-as-a-format's evolving place in musical culture. I wonder: are we still living in a world in which CDs function as music's "end product" -- i.e., the playback technology of choice for most users? Or are we moving into a situation in which CDs are becoming more of a "delivery medium"?
In other words: people still buy CDs, sure, but what do they do with them exactly? I suspect that most people rip their purchases to iTunes (or some other digital media player), and then primarily listen to that etherealized copy (whether it's an mp3 or something of higher quality). Maybe CDs are now to digital files as LPs were to cassettes back in the seventies and early eighties?
For me the issue at hand is this: if CDs really are becoming more of a delivery medium for most people (and I think they are), why bother with all the fancy physical packaging? Why not something simple and efficient? Why clutter up your shelves with useless plastic casing when all you really need is an envelope or a sleeve?
Actually, a number of "serious" collectors I know don't even bother with shelves anymore. They chuck the packaging outright once they have procured a given album. The CD itself gets ripped, then goes into a binder (perhaps with the liner notes), and everything else goes in the trash, the recycle bin, or a resale box.
On the other hand, there are collectors like this one (who appears in the comments of the last linked article):
As a CD collector, there's nothing that can compare to the tactile feel of a smooth-sided jewel case from an early pressing CD [...] Again, it's back to quality vs. convenience. And convenience is for amateurs.
It's a stance I don't get. Often the response to "why not dispense with jewel cases (or, ultimately, go digital altogether)?" is "because I love the tactile experience of having a collection of CDs lined up on a shelf." But then you never get an answer to the question "why do you love the tactile experience of having a collection of CDs lined up on a shelf?" Does it, like, make the music sound better?
(The psych-enthusiast in me suspects that the underlying reason for the "tactile" argument actually has more to do with questions of social display and identity -- sort of like the books you leave on your coffee table -- than with the music itself.)
Of course, you'll be hard-pressed to find a music fan (yours truly is no exception) who doesn't appreciate a carefully-crafted context (of visual art and words) for the albums they buy. But can't we continue to get a great liner notes / album art experience while simultaneously tempering the materiality of the situation somewhat? An artist can fit some basic eye-catching art and textual details on a well-designed jacket (even of the 2-panel variety). And he or she can then use that initial frame to point a fan to something much more powerful and interactive -- something like a website with in-depth liner notes, interviews, tons of pix, videos, downloadable extras... the sky's the limit. If we can agree that everyone likes a frame for their art, why not choose a frame like that?
In fact, the only serious drawback I can see with the jacket idea is that there would be no spine (or perhaps only a very thin one), which I suspect might discourage brick and mortar retailers from wanting to carry a disc that was so packaged (although indie mainstay CD Baby will indeed sell discs without a spine, as long as there is art and shrinkwrap). Beyond that, I worry too that people are basically conservative when it comes to media, and that the possibility of having to deal with a newfangled packaging format would be enough to frighten them away from a purchase.
Of course, that may just be my paranoia talking. If a music fan is afraid of the newfangled, the chances of them being drawn to an IJG record in the first place are pretty slim.
Anyway, I'm wondering... where do you fall on this question, dear reader? Would the idea that something was being released as a CD-in-a-jacket deter you as a consumer? Would it excite you? Would it matter at all (i.e., am I overthinking this)?