Too bored to rip your own CDs?

Tεχνολογία : Τεχνολογία και Επιστήμες

Nova Spivack, a well-heeled New Yorker and technophile, had been dying to get an iPod for a long time. The problem wasn't money, but Spivack's giant CD collection. He couldn't face the chore of converting 1,000-plus CDs to digital format.

Then Spivack discovered RipDigital, a firm that offers a surprising but timely service: For about a dollar a disc, the company converts entire CD collections to MP3 files, all nicely organized by artist and album.
Spivack boxed up his CDs and shipped them to Rip Digital. Four days later he got them back, along with an external hard drive containing MP3s of his entire CD collection.

"It's really changed my listening experience," Spivack said. "The nice thing about digital is it reminds you what you have, instead of it sitting in a case on your wall. I made a bunch of playlists, and I'm listening to music all the time again."

It may seem odd that a company could turn a profit by doing a chore that anyone can do. But RipDigital is another sign that music is steadily going digital. Instead of downloading MP3s from file-trading networks and ripping them to CDs, customers like Spivack are more interested in converting their CD archives into MP3s.

"I plugged (RipDigital's hard drive) into my PC, plugged in my new iPod and 10 minutes later I had my collection on my iPod," Spivack said. "I got my whole collection on my PC in about half an hour, instead of a month."

Spivack, the CEO of Radar Networks, isn't looking back. Having digitized his collection, Spivack tossed all the CD cases in the trash. He's keeping the original disks only as backup.

"I'm going to be buying music online from now on," said Spivack. "I'm never going to touch another CD. I'm not even going to look at another CD."

Dick Adams, one of the company's three co-founders, said the service has been growing in popularity since its launch in December.

"We've been overwhelmed with orders and scrambling to keep up," he said. "It's been fabulous."

Adams said the company initially targeted DJs, radio stations and institutions like hotels and libraries. Adams said they hoped for demand from audiophiles and collectors, but were surprised by the reaction from consumers.

"There are a lot of people out there who have more money than time," said Adams. "Most people don't roll their own cigarettes, and a lot of people don't want to do this themselves."

After receiving an order, RipDigital sends customers a box with spindles for their CDs (the jewel cases aren't shipped) and a shipping label.

Customers load up the spindles, ship the package to RipDigital, and about a week later they get their discs back, along with DVDs containing their songs in high-fidelity (224 kbps) MP3 format. If they prefer, songs can be loaded onto an external hard drive.

"The quality is good," said Neal Howard, a professional DJ from Atlanta, who is using the company to steadily digitize his collection of several hundred CDs.

Though RipDigital uses MP3 format by default, the company will rip songs using any codec the customer wants -- Microsoft's WMA or Apple's AAC, for example. Adams said so far, the WMA/AAC split has been about 50/50.

The ripping process is highly automated -- Adams declined to go into detail, citing "competitive reasons." He said each CD is ripped individually, and the files erased after they are dispatched to the customer. The company does not keep a library of files it has ripped, Adams said.

RipDigital marks each song with a digital watermark, which can be used to uniquely identify each client. Adams said the watermark is insurance should customers start loading songs onto file-sharing networks. The company is not using the information, and has no plans to do so, Adams said.

Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research, said he was surprised that anyone would pay for a service like this. Wilcox said he ripped 400 CDs of his own on a Sunday afternoon. "It's not that painful," he said.

Wilcox also doubted that CDs are doomed. Jupiter's studies predict that for the next several years the number of people downloading music will remain in single-digit percentages compared with the number of CD buyers, Wilcox said.

"Our data shows that CDs are going to be around for a long time," he said. "MP3s and other digital formats are still in their infancy."

But for Spivack, the CD is a thing of the past.

"I've become a total iPod fanatic," he said. "In the week I've got this, I've spent about $500 at the Apple music store. My productivity is going down. Now all I do is play with digital music."


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