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I Just Bought My First CD Since 2006 and You Should Too

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Hello. I'm a 33-year old father of two, and I just bought a Taylor Swift CD on Amazon. Let me explain the CD part.

I realize that for many of you the act of buying an album—instead of streaming subscriptions or torrents—is borderline unfathomable. Much less an album in compact disc form. That's fair! But it's also a whole other conversation. For those that do pay for content—whether in streaming or download form—you might be surprised to learn that you've been doing it wrong this whole time. Especially if you're cheap.


It's tempting to peg my purchase of Taylor Swift's 1989 to the removal of her entire back catalog from Spotify today, but the truth is I clicked Add to Cart late last week. I had my reasons! Here they are, in order of my own personal decision tree at the time.

  1. I like Taylor Swift.
  2. I hadn't heard her new album, outside of Shake It Off, which my almost-two-year-old daughter can't stop dancing to.
  3. Said album was not available on Spotify and probably wouldn't be for a few weeks (or, as we learned this morning, maybe ever?). So might as well suck it up and buy it.

And that's where I learned something totally incongruous that aligned with my interests as a cheapskate: 1989 the MP3 album is 25 percent more expensive than 1989 the CD. That in itself shouldn't come as such a surprise; Kindle ebooks are regularly pricier than their paperback counterparts. The weirdness really sets in, though, when you realize that Amazon's AutoRip feature means that the 1989 CD tosses in that same MP3 album for free. You can download it immediately.

For those keeping score at home, here's how it nets out.

1989 MP3 album download: $12.50

1989 MP3 album download + CD: $10

The economics of this, which basically says here is what you wanted, but less expensive and with a bonus, are inexplicable, but I will try to explicate them here. Digital prices are negotiated separately; there's a set price for them. But Amazon can work around that price if it knows you own a physical copy of the music, in which case it can essentially gift you the MP3 version without paying the artist and label extra money. It's a loophole, a way to offer competitive pricing that its digital contracts don't allow. Or seems to be, anyway. It's hard to think of another explanation that makes any sense.

Yes, there's a downside; if you're just buying a CD to save a couple of bucks on the download, you're being incredibly wasteful. And if you're buying a physical format, vinyl's still the best—albeit way more expensive—option for music purists. But! As obsolete as they've become, CDs still offer some benefits. They offer higher fidelity than a download can. They have resale value, however meager; just try putting your MP3s in a cardboard box at your next yard sale. And to be honest, I likely would have ended up burning 1989 onto a disc anyway to take with me in the car, because again, I have a toddler who can't get enough.

I'm not under any illusion that this is a brand new discovery. It's been going on for years. But I suspect that many of you—whether you actively pay for music or not—blew off CDs even longer ago. And now that it's more clear than ever that a Spotify subscription won't necessarily scratch your every musical itch, it's helpful to know your options. Especially when they don't make any goddamn sense.