When we started out in 1993, MARS HILL AUDIO lived only on cassette tapes. Then, around the turn of the millennium — as more and more vehicles had CD players but not cassette players — we offered subscriptions on CDs as well. Cassette tapes were eventually dropped when good quality cassette duplication became harder to obtain.
In 2005 — before phones with touchscreens but after MP3 players had become popular — we offered downloadable audio as an alternative to CDs. Eventually, we released a new website featuring streaming audio, then, a few years back, an app that streamed and stored audio. With each of these new media, we expanded the amount of audio we provided to our subscribers: the CD edition had bonus tracks, and the downloadable/streamable audio sometimes had more audio than could fit on two CDs. Plus, since the release of our app, dozens of hours of free audio content has been delivered to subcribers and non-subscribers alike, allowing us to share our interviews and commentary with a larger audience.
But we’ve had to abandon the CD medium for two reasons. First, many local post offices frequently sent mailed CDs back to us, claiming that we hadn’t paid enough postage (despite the fact that our local postmaster had approved the rate we were using). We were charged for the return of the CDs, and then paid a premium price to mail the CDs a second time. This more than tripled our shipping costs. This mix-up was happening more and more frequently, and — when added to other problems with shipping — we were losing money on many of the CD subscriptions we sell.
In addition, because more customers came to prefer the convenience and lower cost of digital subscriptions, our CD duplication costs went up significantly. With fewer CD subscribers, we were not benefiting from “economies of scale,” so the duplication and printing costs per unit increased significantly.
Yes, something is lost by not having the Journal on CDs, but the digital format does have some definite advantages. For example, since we released our app, we have produced many hours of special features in addition to the interviews heard on the Journal. My tiny staff and I are eager to assist those accustomed only to listening on CD to the benefits of this versatile format, and to help them make the transition to a new way of enjoying the work of MARS HILL AUDIO.
For subscribers who have a smart phone or a tablet, the shift should be relatively easy. For listeners who don’t have such a device, we’ve set up a web page to offer some suggestions about how they can listen to our work at home or while driving without the benefit of those maroon and silver disks. See marshillaudio.org/after-CDs for details.
When we first began selling subscriptions via MP3 downloads, a friend accused me of succumbing to the forces of modern gnosticism, that I was giving up on the significance of physical presence. I reminded him that, no matter what medium delivers it, sound is as much a physical presence as are things visual or tactile. Sound — regardless of how it is mediated — engages the body with a compelling, resounding power.
As someone who has worked with producing (and consuming) various media for over 50 years, I believe that this conversion of media format will work for good for our listeners, despite what may seem awkward or alien to some. Stay tuned!
P. S. CD lovers can still build their collection of MARS HILL AUDIO discs with purchases of back issues from marshillaudiocds.org.