Have CDs had their day? What are the lessons for Enterprise IT?

In the late 90s had dinner with Dave Crocker, the original author of RFC 822 and so a founding father of Internet Mail. He said it never ceased to irritate him when people said how amazed they were that e-mail had been adopted so quickly by companies, since RFC 822 had been published in 1982 and he had personally been working on getting e-mail established for over 20 years.

We see this model over and over again. Things seem to happen overnight with hindsight, but for those who have been paying attention they have been evolving for years. Mike Zisman, who used to lead Soft-Switch and then Lotus, once wrote a paper on “Timing is Everything” which discussed the frustration of having technology ready before the market is ready, and the magic that happens when everything lines up.

I was reminded of this when I saw the Which? Conversation survey Have CDs had their day? asking if people buy CDs in music shops, buy CDs online, mostly use free streaming services or buy digital downloads from online music stores. I didn’t feel that I could really respond to the survey, as the answer was “all of the above”. Here is the comment I posted:

“They are complementary. I still by a small number of CDs each year – less than I did in the last century, but it hasn’t changed so much in the last 10 years since I started using online services. The limiting factor is that I don’t want to store more CDs. I buy absolute favourites because of the pleasure of owning them. But I have to like many tracks off the album – the big difference now is I can get familiar with the whole CD before deciding whether to buy (I was frustrated by the number of CDs I have from the 80s and 90s from which I only really want to hear one or two tracks – but ripping fixes that).


When I buy, I do it from good record shops if I can – primarily to support them. The best I know is Ludwig Beck in Munich. The CDs are in the cases on display, and there are lots of players around so you can listen first. A great variety of music, quiet atmosphere, space. I will go out of my way to go there and find things to buy. The UK music chains don’t generate the same loyalty – it’s mostly “fast food” retail. I occasionally pick a CD up at the airport, but wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase there. So, unless I can get to a good record shop I purchase online.


Streaming: sure. A good way to find out if I like just the track, or the whole CD, and other stuff the artist does. But mostly for research – the majority of background listening is still Radio. In both cases, advertising supported seems to work (I love the BBC model, but more for speech, or the thinking behind it, than music). Online purchases: yes. As mostly I only want to own one or two tracks off an album. A lot of my listening is done on the iPod/iPad when travelling, so that’s my favourite way to access all my music (including ripped CDs). I just top up my collection with purchases – but over time that is going to become a significant proportion.

Which led me to think about technology adoption and how it changes consumer behaviour – since the users’ behaviour and the organisation’s ability to change the way they work are a key influence in the adoption of Social Business. The complexity of the intersecting technologies, each on their own timeline, made the changes in the music industry complex. The Internet came along. The mp3 standard came along. Music players came along. Web commerce came along. Streaming technologies came along. At some moment in time, Apple came along and did the right thing at the right time to change an industry. And now social networking is looking to influence how this ecosystem evolves. The users went for the mix of solutions that best met their needs at each specific moment in time – rather than just neatly adopting the next solution in the series as they had before (78, LP, CD, …). Meanwhile the industry spent all its efforts fighting the inevitable, instead of leading the way to the future.

IT teams that try to delay the adoption of Social Business in their organisations are going to suffer the same fate. If they don’t take a leadership position in explaining the value to the business, then they are going to suffer unpleasant consequences – whether that comes from losing their influence as more enlightened management is put in place above them, or even being rendered irrelevant by a move to commodity Cloud services by the business.


One thought on “Have CDs had their day? What are the lessons for Enterprise IT?

  1. We’re seeing a fundamental shift in the IT industry where low-cost consumer technologies are driving adoption in the enterprise. Apple is a great example of a company that has been around since the mid 70’s and while they’ve had many ups and downs, they have repeatedly re-invented themselves and embraced change.

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