I picked up the new Jenny Lewis CD a few days ago, and while it's a fine CD (in many ways it does what Elvis Costello's last album set out to do, but more effectively...), the packaging is annoying. It comes in a cardboard slipcase, so narrow that there's no spine, and with no inner sleeve to protect or hold the disc. There are four small snapshot-like photos included, which are just tossed inside the slipcase. The musician credits are printed on the back cover, along with the usual bureaucratic info...and the admonition DO NOT DROP THIS RECORD.
Yeah? Because the crap packaging means it might shatter?
Apparently major labels have just given up on trying to sell CDs, and are cutting their packaging costs...even though good packaging is one of the few aspects of physical recorded media that cannot be digitally reproduced. You'd think they'd be going the opposite direction, making more packages with aesthetic value in themselves. If this were the only example of shoddy packaging on recent CDs (and I suppose a number of my readers are like, you still buy CDs? Christ but you're old!), I might not be complaining...but PJ Harvey's last release was similarly packaged (although it, at least, had an inner sleeve, if I recall correctly, so there was some friction preventing the disc from just falling out onto the ground).
I suppose you could argue that such minimal packaging leaves a smaller environmental footprint, and if you did, I'd laugh in your face. There's a difference between packaging that's pointless because it's discarded as soon as the product is brought home (such as the nasty, hard to open, finger-slicing molded-plastic cases common on lots of household products) and packaging that's integral to the product and which therefore will not be thrown away, at least not until the product itself is tossed. But cheap packaging like this almost encourages further waste. I'm tempted to scan the cover and back cover and print it out on some decent paper, and put the whole thing in a conventional jewelbox, just so the CD can sit amongst my other CDs and not disappear and become unidentifiable (no spine, remember?). Which would mean I'd be using more paper, and probably more paper overall than a decent package would have used in the actual product.
Perhaps another irony here is that I bought this CD as essentially an impulse purchase: I was buying something else at the Large Box with Red and White Concentric Circles, and it was on sale, so I picked it up. If I'd known in advance the packaging was so flimsy, I might have decided merely to download it.
A musician named Zimmerman, from the same state as the store, had a new compilation of unreleased material out, too, also on sale, which I also picked up. Funny how that one was almost exactly twice the price of the Lewis release...yet it contained not only twice the music, roughly - two discs - but extensive info and documentation, including a 60-page booklet. Of course this suggests another reason for the lame packaging of Lewis's CD: lower production and material costs mean more profits for the label. I suppose Columbia, which put out that Minnesota guy's set, figures the only people interested in a 2-CD set of obscurities by him are old people who'd buy a CD because they can't handle all this newfangled digital rigmarole, whereas Warner Bros. figures Ms. Lewis's fans are just gonna download the thing anyway. It's also just my personal opinion, but I've gotta say Lewis is a hell of a lot more photogenic than that elderly folksinger dude anyway. I guess good on WB for not caving to the capitalistic pressure to exploit a singer's sex appeal. Columbia, on the other hand, saw fit to fill that 60-page booklet with shot after shot of the nearly seventy-year-old Dylan gazingly faunishly at the camera while recumbent in nothing but a snug yet well-filled pair of bikini briefs.
Thank god I'm kidding, please.