Monday, August 24, 2009

1 of 3 - CD cases

Hello! It's Alex here, wanting to talk about CD packaging and figuring this would be a nice outlet for that.

Right, what I'm about to say sounds a little bit disrespectful: I don't think anybody on YouTube values physical media as much as they should. (When I say "anybody" I mean people putting out music.)

We have some musicians on YouTube signed to DFTBA that put their music out through slip cases; some that print CDs on Kunaki, where you only get a single sheet insert but no hassle of self-shipping; some people that print and ship their own CDs, still only including a single insert but netting a higher profit than Kunaki would provide; and some musicians who keep their music specific to iTunes and don't even HAVE a physical offering.

Within DFTBA, there are only two exceptions to this; Chameleon Circuit and Trock On!, both pretty in their full jewel cases and with rich colour booklets. (Alan wanted to put Trock On! in a slip case, and I personally paid the extra to make them jewels, because I thought it would be worth it.)

Outside of DFTBA, the only musician I know of that has an equal quality standard for his CDs is Tom Milsom, who ships his first album Awkward Ballads For The Easily Pleased himself and has a jewel case and full colour lyrics booklet.

It is my opinion that people who make the effort to buy the physical CD, waiting for days to get it shipped out when they could have just got it instantly on iTunes, deserve something more than a single insert or a slip case. I'm not a fan of slip cases because they don't have any kind of booklet, not even a one-sheet insert like Kunaki; they look rubbish on my shelf because they're too thin, so I can't see from the side what they are; they're literally just a holder for the music. Well I have one of those. I have my computer. If you've seen the cover art online, you don't get anything new out of a slip case. I think Kunaki printings, crude though they can sometimes appear, still look better than a slip case on a shelf.

The experience, in my opinion, is worth SO much. Getting the CD, opening it and seeing the CD artwork for the first time; pulling out the booklet and reading the thank-yous and and the lyrics, and seeing the little nuances inside the booklet that you didn't get online, cos they only showed the cover art. Being able to put it on your shelf and see that you own that thing and if people come over and see your shelf and ask what Chameleon Circuit is, you can pull it out and go through it all again, sharing the coolness of DFTBA with people. If anyone sees Dave Days, the Volume One comp or any of our other slip releases on a shelf, they're not gonna bother pulling them all out to see what they are.

(I haven't covered digipacks cos I don't mind those as much, because they're covered in artwork. I still miss the insert, though.)

I think jewel cases should be standardised across the full range of CDs that we ship. Obviously jewel cases cost more than slip cases, so there's a bit less profit, but I think it would balance out; if jewel cases and rich full booklets are standard policy, DFTBA will develop a reputation not only for quality music but for quality products. It'll be worth making the effort to wait a bit and get the CD, cos you know it'll be a full experience when it arrives. And that means more people buying CDs, which makes up for the extra cost. At the moment I think the product range is confusing when someone buys four CDs and they receive a jewel case, two slip cases and a digipack. It suggests there's some kind of difference in quality or production, and there isn't.

In an extreme scenario, DFTBA couldn't exist without physical sales. I know how to put my own music up on iTunes, and I could do it myself; aside from the promotion and the lovely feeling of community we have here, the main reason for releasing my music through the label is so that I can have gorgeous physical products released and shipped on my behalf. That's easily worth DFTBA's cut of the cake without any additional promotion at all. If customers only cared about iTunes, artists would just put their music on iTunes themselves and cut DFTBA out, and we'd go out of business. The physical sales is where we thrive. We need to create quality physical releases so that people make the effort to buy more. (And from a stats point of view, we find out how well CDs are selling instantly if we're selling physicals; iTunes takes a couple months. We're a lot more aware when we're selling real stock.)

The reason I'm writing this is to find out what you think. In my opinion, jewel cases have an unparalleled professionalism; over 90% of CDs in a British music shop are all jewels (although Alan tells me it's a little more mixed stateside). Have you ever thought about this before? Would you buy So Jokes again if it was re-released in a jewel case? Cos I know I would. How important do you think products are, and how well do you think we're getting it right? Am I just over-exaggerating?

Thoughts, comments, discussion. Let's roll, guys :)


EDIT: I forgot to mention that Ed, Raven and Chameleon Circuit all have tracks which are exclusive to the physical CD, and I think that's a great idea. Parrot Stories has a hidden track which is physical-exclusive.

EDIT: People in comments are saying they prefer slip cases because they save space, and people are moving to digital formats and don't need all the space that a jewel case takes up. I completely agree, but then my question becomes - why do you buy the CD at all? Help me out in comments :)


  1. I've always preferred Digipacks over jewel cases, mainly because I have a tendency to carry CDs around in coat pockets, and digipacks don't crack as easily... I also feel that they're nicer to hold, and generally more aesthetically pleasing... on the other hand I do suppose that they're probably more expensive to manufacture, due to the fact that each one is unique to an individual product, rather than the sort of versatility of a CD case... anyway, yeah, just my two pence

  2. I guess being stateside (well... Canada), I'm used to CDs coming in slip cases. I actually prefer slip cases. Why? Because, as my music has moved more into the digital realm, I've stopped investing in shelf space to hold all my CDs.

    Back in the 90s, I would have these special shelves made for jewel cases (sometimes inexpensive and made of plastic). They would be as high as my chest and hold maybe 50-70 CDs. When the iPod came around - that kind of shelf space just seemed like a waste of space.

    If I have a CD that comes in a jewel case, I am more likely to put the CD in a small CD holder bag now. The exceptions are CDs that come in slip covers. Hank Green's CD still is in its slip cover. But almost all CDs that came in jewel cases are in my CD holder/bag - with the jewel cases either cracked or misplaced.

    With many of your customers going into college (or university as you'd call it in the UK), the premium of space is all the more salient. Many will leave their jewel cases behind and either rip the CDs and/or put them in a CD bag.

    Anyways that's just my two cents. And I'm Canadian - so with the exchange rate and all that maybe not much at all :P

  3. I much prefer slip cases. Above all it's practicality - I personally don't have a lot of space for CDs because I have a lot of other stuff, plus nowadays, things I used to want jewel cases for (lyrics, interaction with the band and so on), I can find online.

    Plus, I hate that jewel cases crack because I always always crack them. I would take the CD out of the case anyway. Slip cases I think are a lot better and from what I've seen of Wizard Rock CDs, people like them just fine.

    - Rosianna

  4. I will always prefer jewel cases over everything else. They look pretty on my shelf and the booklets with lyrics and thank you's are the first thing I look at when I get a new CD. Even before I listen to it for the first time! So personally, I am prepared to pay a few extra dollars for the jewel cases, with the exchange-rate changing every now and then anyway, it doesn't really matter!

    Also, like Alex said; I would probably get both So Jokes and I'm so bad at this live again if they had jewel cases with extra info/pics/lyrics and stuff.
    So that's my two cents... thanks for all your amazing music! :)

  5. I would usually go with a jewel case out of preference, though I must confess that I totally adored the halfway-house that Coldplay produced for Viva La Vida - two slip-cases put together to resemble a digipack, with a booklet in one and the CD in another. I wish we could see more CD packaging like that!

  6. I agree with Shawn - while a big pretty full jewel case and booklet is nice, I literally look at it for 5 minutes and throw it on a shelf. I don't display my music collection anywhere... I keep some CD cases but they're in my closet. They take up space. They're not conversation-starters or a way of sharing music because I dont have room to line them all up on a shelf.
    It's kind of sad - because jewel cases and booklets are nice. But it's just not worth it for me to have everyone, maker and buyer, spending more money for something I'm going to enjoy for 5 minutes. Once the music is on my computer/iPod in some cases I even get rid of the case - I have plenty of other clutter. :/

  7. I completely agree with you Alex; I definitely prefer jewel cases. The whole reason I buy and prefer physical copies of music over digital is because of the artwork and the 'I own this'-ness. Slip cases aren't as satisfying (that sounds really strange but i can't think of any other way to phrase it) and not having all my cds be uniform whist sitting on a shelf or whatever isn't cool, always feel like the slip cases are 'lost' amidst everything else. Digipacks are all right, but I much prefer jewel cases.

    People who say the other kinds save space can just buy digitally and that's that :P

  8. I think jewel cases are way obsolete. No self respecting band has released anything in a jewel case the last five years. They're dull and standard.

    Uniqueness is the way to go. Digipacks are very useful for that. Unlike Alex said they *can* contain booklets, and they can be made in endless variations. And with the carton cover they get a warm, book-like shine to them. They look nice on your shelf and invite you to pick them up.

    I agree that slipcases don't do albums justice. They were made for singles and promos, not for albums. An album has to be unique. So no slipcases, no jewel cases. Let it stand out on its own!

  9. My personal preference would be - as yours, Alex - a jewel case. I get an entirely different feeling from a jewel case than the few digipacks I do have. My one or two slipcases have long since been transferred to doublesided cd-pockets and put in a folder.
    I view my collection of CDs like a sort of library. I can easily browse the titles from the backs of the cds and pick out what music I want to hear, just as I can browse the backs of my books.

    Oh, and I felt sort of gypped when I bought two albums by Jack Johnson only to find both were cardboard digipacks. Okay, they might not crack and they might be eco-friendly, but there really isn't the same look or feel to it. It is indeed all about the experience, and personally, I have never gotten the "full experience" from cardboard packaging.

  10. "No self-respecting band has released anything in a jewel case the last five years" - what?!

    I love the point that slip cases feel more made for promos, though. And I admire the strive for uniqueness.

  11. I completely agree with this. I had been so excited to recieve I'm So Bad At This Live, but something very unfortunate happened. Our family's paypal account is under my dad's name, so naturally, when the CD arrived, it was adressed to him. He had no idea what the package was, so he just grabbed a pair of scissors and cut it open. He then brought the it to me and I found that my long awaited CD was missing one corner of it's case. I realize this isn't the end of the world. The CD is more important than the case (I love I'm So Bad At This Live by the way), but if it had been in a jewel case, my dad would have been unable to snip the case so easily.

  12. Alex, I think you make a very good point, but the way you made it came across as a bit elitist, and especially making digs at other DFTBA artists on the DFTBA blog? Not on.

    That aside, I definitely think jewel cases are better, especially for display purposes but also it adds to the personal feel of the music. For music I just like and want to own just so I OWN it, I'll download it. For a band that I want to listen to the album all the way through and go on that journey with them, I'll buy the physical CD and I do expect at least a lyrics booklet, or some more art on the inside of the cover. I don't think it's a bonus, I think it's a necessary companion to the music on the physical CD.

  13. I still prefer the jewel cases, they just look so much nicer and have, as you've said, the little quirks like extra artwork and bits of information.
    When I got the CC album I remember sitting and reading through and generally admiring it.

    Although I can see the point about saving space and money with the slip cases they just don't appeal to me.

    Also, I know DFTBA use bubble padded envelopes but it surprises me how the CD's travelling worldwide in slip cases remain quite so undamaged.

    Even though they take up this extra space and most people will be transferring/ripping the songs to their computer almost instantly we bought the physical copy for a reason and one might be that we want to display the music, perhaps so a friend might see it and pick it up and ask about it. A slip case is easier ignored compared and I would be less confident lending it as it'd be slightly easier to loose and damage.

    This might change for younger people who've only really experienced buying digital music but really CD's look nice on a shelf, much more than tapes or records ever did.


  14. Whatever looks best when it's signed by a sharpie. :P

  15. Very interesting points, Alex...
    Honestly, I was a little put off when I opened my goodie package of DFTBA CDs that Alan sent me. Don't get me wrong, I was MEGA excited to have them, and still am, but I guess I was surprised to find out that Dave Days and DFTBA Vol.1 were in Slip cases. I was expecting at least a Digipak. I do like Jewel cases, but in my experience they break a lot. I think I would actually prefer a Digipak. You could still include booklets in Digi packs, I've gotten many that do have them. they are a bit more durable and cohesive. The jewel cases you can just take apart. I like that the art is perminetly there to go with the CD. it's like it's own little house. the CD isn't just renting space.
    I don't mind the slipcases, but like Alex pointed out, I might as well just get them on iTunes. oh and they are hella slippery. I find stuff slides everywhere if I put anything on top of them. haha Just sayin'.

  16. I have always prefered to buy music with a phyical CD case. Seems to be a lot better to have the CD in my shelf. Something I can show my friends that I have taken the time to purcahse. If the music was in digtal form only. I wouldn't buy it. And would use the useual soruces to get it the other way. Even tho I would play only the mp3 on the stereo, having the CD is proof that i made the effort to support you guys

  17. I'd have to say I prefer Jewel cases. I love the booklets and I like being able to look at my shelf and know which CD is which just by looking at the side of it.

    But if you could do Digipaks I think it would please everyone, It's like a hybrid of the jewel case and the slip case, because you can get the booklet and all that fun stuff in them.

  18. I pretty much agree with every thing you said. I'm just a little torn between the less sturdy, eco friendly, digipacks. And the study not so eco friendly jewel cases. I don't really mind digipacks but I think jewel cases are(or can be) a littler bit better looking depending on the booklet.

  19. Digipacks are ok but nothin beats a jewel case. I have never bought a full album on iTunes and I never intend to, physical CD's are just awesome. I only have 2 CDs in slip covers and I just don't like them at all.

  20. I think this is a very good issue to address. While I do prefer jewel cases, something about the slip cases are enjoyable. Maybe its the fact that they are small and feel more special because you know that what you're holding is possible because of a bunch of people on youtube. However a lyrics booklet is something I usually look forward to. And slip cases in my opinion dont offer much protection for the CD because the case can easily bend. Not to mention you have to slide the CD over a peice of cardstock to get it in and out which can sometimes cause scratching.

    The other big reason why I prefer other cases is for autograph purposes. When Craig came to Alan's house on blogtv to sign Drifless Pony Club EPs he couldnt sign the cover because the slip cases are too glossy.

    I never have any problem with digipaks. In many cases (no pun intended) I prefer digipaks because they feel more special. That is, assuming its a well put togeather digipak. Ive gotten some that were made really badly. One time I got a digipak that was actually just a fancier slipcase. I ended up cutting up the casing and making it fit an empty jewel case I had. As long as there is a good peice of plastic holding the cd into the digipak, then I actually prefer them in lots of situations.

  21. I agree with you alex, I think the jewel , should be standard they look better and feel better, I don't think I would re-buy So Jokes though mainly because I bought my copy from the Cathren at the tour de nerdfighting and got it signed by hank as I talked to him and redeamed the high fives entited to the holder

  22. i like the jewel cases. i LOVE the jewel cases. the cd is all safe inside of there and i wish i had bought my wizard rock in hard copy, not on itunes.

    i'm a broadway freak and we NEED the inside booklet. In fact, I took my booklet of out my RENT CD so much that it's litterally disappeared. I have no idea where it went, but i must've taken it to school and something happened to it. It makes me sad, but I know all the lyrics anyway.

    so, please, Jewel cases are the way to be.

    [p.s I love Cameleon Circut so much that i started watching Doctor Who and am now in love with it! Thanks!!]

  23. I prefer jewel cases, its not a matter of space, it just feels rightr to buy somthing then get a quality substantial product^^

  24. I love having jewel cases, I don't like buying music online at all. If I am going to pay money for something, I want something physical to hold in my hand. I love the cd booklet, I love reading the lyrics, and looking at the pictures. I love the thank you pages, especially for people I have been watching on youtube, because they say things and I get the references. That is one of my favourite things about Looking For Alaska, if you read the thank you page, it's from before he married the Yeti, and it's so cute ^__^

  25. My favourite DFTBA case is definitely "Taking Leave" and not just because it is the only one I still sometimes look at while listening to the music.

    Like you pointed out the slip cases could become a problem to take out of the shelf cause you can't read what is on them before you pull them out. But jewel cases are a problem for (overseas) shipping.

    My "Cameleon Circuit" case was broken when it got here. That already puts a damper on things for me. And that is not the only time I ordered a CD from overseas and it was broken when it got here.

    I do think your point about "making it look more attractive for customers" is not really a problem with DFTBA slip cases. I don't browse the webpage like I would shelves in a store, so packaging does not influence my buying decision. However if you plan to also sell in shops, I would go with jewel cases, as I personally am more likely to buy a jewel cased CD in a store than a digipack and certainly more likely than a slip case.

  26. I buy individual tracks from Amazon mp3 and iTunes, but when I buy an entire album, I prefer to have the physcial CD in either a jewel case or a digipack. Jewel cases look really nice on a shelf and digipacks are cool because they can be unique to each album. I love looking over the artwork, lyrics, and thank yous as soon as I open the album.

    As for limited space at college, I rip all my CDs to my computer and leave my jewel cases at home. (I don't take all my books with me either...) I can enjoy the music on my computer any time and the jewel cases are always waiting at home.

  27. I totally know what you mean. I LOVE the booklets. I rarely buy stuff on itunes unless I just can't wait for it. The booklets are the best part. But as of late, my whole collection seems to consist of the slip cases. It makes my music shelf look sad and small.

    One of my favorite CD's is my favorite because it has a 15 paged booklet. X) It's so awesome!

  28. I own all the DFTBA releases on CD and I definitely prefer jewel cases. I love the booklets especially if they have all the lyrics in them like the Chameleon Circuit album. The Taking Leave digipack is also great. Both are definitely much better than the slip cases.

  29. I don't like slip cases at all. I have bookshelves surrounding my room full of CD cases [all jewel or digipacks] and love the way they look. I toss slip cases into a box and never look at the them again, especially now that iTunes displays album art within the program. And, to be honest, I'm FAR more likely to buy a CD with a jewel case or a digipack than I am one with a slip case, simply for aesthetic reasons.

    That said, I do enjoy the digipacks, as long as they're done well [ie - "Taking Leave"]. I've seen some that are just solid colors on the inside, when you can do so much more like adding lyrics, photos, and thank yous. If they don't take advantage of these possiblities, they're not much better off than a slip case, except that they don't get thrown in a box. So, pretty much, I'm just reinforcing everything Alex said.

  30. Well, it seems that we have the simple, cheap and easy slipcase at one end of the spectrum and the jewel case at the other, with digipacks roughly in the middle. While slipcases are durable and make for easy storage, its just not as nice as having a proper "album" case, since as someone else pointed out, slipcases were designed more with EPs in mind. Equally, while it is really nice to have a jewel case on an album, with booklet et al, they do have an alarming tendency to break.

    I think that, as JB said, digipacks are the way forward. Their carton covers are durable, they have the jewel case style CD holding thing, the CAN hold booklets, and they can be made in an almost limitless array of variations. Plus: more aesthetically pleasing in my opinion.

    My example is my copy of the NIN album The Fragile. It's a double disk digipack with three "sections", so that the first section you reveal when opening it is the first CD, then the booklet compartment, then the second CD. It's compact, durable, has the satisfying feel of a full physical album without that jewel case fragileness.

  31. That said, I do enjoy the odd jewel case, like my double disk copy of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings. *strokes lovingly*. It has frickin' ESSAYS in the booklet.

  32. I think on the website they should at least tell you what you're getting. I perfer jewel cases or digipacks, but I hate how jewel cases break. If I want it cheap and saving space, I'd just buy it on itunes.

  33. I rather buy the physical cd over downloading. And I PREFER jewel cases. So what if they're bigger and take up more space? I use them as decoration. Call me old school (I'm only 25), but there's something exciting to be said to hold a CD, look at the album art and read the booklet.

    Excellent blog Alex

  34. I don't buy the CD UNLESS it's in a jewel case, if it's in a slip case, then I may as well buy it on iTunes in my opinion. I end up listening to it from my computer anyway, the coverart is there, why do I need the CD? It's pretty useless to me except for looks, and when it's in a little slip, it doesn't look that great. So It wasn't until I saw videos of the Chameleon Circuit CD with booklet etc (I think it was Raven who made one and she was reading all of the thank yous and stuff?) did I decide to buy the physical one instead of just buying it on iTunes.

  35. I totally agree with you. The only CD I've ordered from DFTBA so far is So Jokes, I've used iTunes for any other songs that I want by you guys.
    Having the physical CD of So Jokes is nice, but it would have been a lot nicer with a booklet inside, etc.
    I think that I would definitely buy a lot more of the physical CDs if they had jewelled cases, secret tracks and booklets.


  36. I was disappointed when I first opened So Jokes because slip cases remind me of promotional items that come in breakfast ereal boxes. I prefer digipacks with a pouch for a booklet. The majority of my jewel cases are cracked even though I'm extremely careful with them. Just opening them too fast can cause them to break and be pretty useless. Digipacks still give me the substantial feeling of a proper album.

  37. *cereal boxes.

    Where's my spell check?

  38. I just don't like jewel cases... if I buy a CD it's cause I want to transport it around with me in a car or when I'm travelling or something, and jewel cases take up more space and break easily. Honestly, the physical copy isn't that important to me-- I only buy physical CDs once in a while, because I have so few and want them for my car.

  39. @nerimon Seriously, of all the CDs I bought recently, none came in a jewel case. They all came in their own unique variation on the Digipack. Which I think is great.

  40. Ultimately, I don't think it's an issue unless DFTBA specifically describes the case. No one's going to send the thing back once they get it. I agree that anything is better than a sleeve, but jewel cases don't exactly excite me. I like digipacks and gatefolds and any kind of special packaging. But as long as it fits on a shelf and has a readable spine, I'm okay with it. 100% post-consumer products are great, but there are better options than a plain cardboard sleeve.

    As a musician, I just want a simple CD package that turns into a pop-up cardboard robot, and maybe makes sound effects.