Why Are CDs Cheaper Than Digital Downloads?

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Last night I decided to buy a bunch of old-man albums from my youth that I’ve never gotten around to getting before. But old man though I might be, I am 21st century in my listening habits. I don’t need a bunch of CDs cluttering up my house, just digital downloads. And yet, I ended up with a bunch of CDs winging their way to my house.

Why? Because out of a dozen purchases at Amazon, the audio CD was cheaper in all but one case. And about half the time, the audio CD included download rights. So I was buying a CD plus a digital download for less than the price of the CD alone.

Can anyone explain this? I know Amazon has some weird pricing policies sometimes, but this seems even weirder than usual. They could have saved themselves both warehouse picking/packing time and shipping costs if they’d priced the digital a buck less than the CD, rather than the other way around. Possible explanations:

  • Most people consider digital files a convenience they’re willing to pay for. It saves them the time of having to rip a CD.
  • License rights something something something.
  • I was a subject in a large-scale study to find out how irrational consumers are.
  • Amazon is so used to losing money they just don’t care.

Any other guesses?

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate