Slightly OT: CD packaging
So I bought Martina McBride’s and Lucinda Williams’s new cds last night at Target. McBride’s cd comes in your typical plastic hinged jewel case with liner notes stowed inside the front cover and the cd secured in the plastic tray with the little slotted button in the middle. But Williams’s cd … oh boy … it was in one of these new all-cardboard packages that open like a picture book (and it really FEELS exciting like that too) and have a pocket built in to each inside flap, the left for a booklet of liner notes and the right for the cd itself. This isn’t the first one I’ve come across, but seeing the two side by side on the car seat and working with them simultaneously in my hands, I noticed for the first time how much I’m enamored by the cardboard jackets.
I wish, though, there was some other way than “cardboard” to describe these miracles of modern engineering, some way to name them that captured how aesthetically and tactilely superior these bi-fold cardboard cases are to their plastic ancestors.
In the first place, they’re environmentally friendlier than the jewel case. But more immediately, their texture is so much more vital and warmer in the hand, the colors and printing so much richer and more saturated and fuller. The layered and pocketed design creates a sense of possibility when you open it, as if there are depths to be explored in the case’s slotted chambers, all kinds of great songs waiting to be described and detailed in that cute little story book of liner notes. The cardboard case feels substantial and looks beautiful in the way the cold, hard, brittle plasticity of the regular cd cases don’t.
But all that’s really just a $15 way of saying that plastic jewel cases have always been pretty crummily designed as packaging technology goes. More often than not the cover cracks and splinters under the strain and stress required to extract the case from the devil-spawned shrink wrap it arrives in. And once freed, the cases break really easily, leaving you with two (or more) pieces of a cd case you have to try to keep together if you don’t want to misplace the liner notes or end up with a damaged disc. And even before the unreliable and often misaligned plastic hinges give out or snap off (which is only a matter of weeks if you open and close the case with any degree of regularity – even less time if you keep it in the car), there’s the tedious task of getting the liner notes back under those four little plastic tabs so the case will click shut properly – a process almost (almost) as existentially infuriating and as soul-murdering as attempting to get that infernal hermetic seal off the top edge of case to begin with.
So far as I can tell, the only artists to adopt cardboard cases are the hip, the indie singers, and a few environmentally friendly types. And if sg holds true to form, it will wait until five years after everyone else adopts this new format before tentatively edging toward it – which means the cd will probably be driven to extinction by iTunes before sg gets around to contemplating cardboard cd cases (in fairness though, the cardboard may be more expensive than plastic … does anyone know?). So I guess I’ll have to prize my Lucinda Williams cd and those two Christine Kane albums all the more in the meantime.
Update: A few commenters have noted that the Collingsworth Family uses “digipacks” (see below and here). And sure enough, there in my stack of “listen to soon” music is a shrink-wrapped digipack from the Cworths. And that’s not all. Reader LR emails to say:
LordSong used the cardboard packaging — not very successfully — on the “Refuse to Be Afraid” project. SG fans didn’t like it very much; the perceived value was low (especially at that time).
Madacy is routinely using digi-paks now (3 CDs for $12.98) for hymns and other gospel music, and they don’t always work smoothly . . . CDs fall out of the spindles, rarely any liner notes, etc.
This sounds more like a comment on Madacy’s vendors and investment in the particular digipacks they use than digipacks generally, but this issue of perceived value seemed worth pulling out.
On the other hand, Reader Tom is no fan of digipacks, no matter the quality:
Call me an old fogey, or perhaps remind me I have OCD, but I prefer the plastic jewel cases. I’ve never had too much trouble with taking care of them so they don’t break, or getting the inserts in carefully and correctly to avoid damaging them. I agree they do tend to get cracked in the mail or somewhere en route to me, and I also share everyone’s disdain for the inventor of the hermetic seal. (Good thing you can easily buy replacement jewel cases for 25 cents at Big Lots!) But the cardboard or digipak cases are much more difficult to take care of. Without the plastic jewel case to preserve the pristine condition of the artwork, you quickly get nicks and scratches and smudges on the actual artwork itself. Anybody taken a look at the vinyl LP shelf at Goodwill lately to observe how well cardboard packaging holds up over time? Anybody up for some moderate ringwear and 4″ split seams?