The band Kings of Leon were the big buzz in this week’s music business news, announcing that they would offer their latest album, When You See Yourself, on non-fungible tokens, widely known as NFTs.
The NFT is being offered starting yesterday in a package that will give you a vinyl and digital download for $50. It was released Friday on YellowHeart, an NFT platform. The collectible catch: after two weeks. the deal is not available, and no more will be made.
The NFT plan is new, but it harkens back to ancient times in the 20th century for the music industry, which has been built on selling and reselling music in ever-changing formats.
Starting with player piano rolls, the business has reinvented its product many times, always promising something newer, better, more democratic, and salvation from corporate interests. Of course, not every solution that has been put forth is wonderful. Imogen Heap, an early adaptor of blockchain, was celebrated for offering a single through a complicated download. In 2017, when it was still fresh, it managed total sales of a hundred and thirty three dollars and twenty cents in its blockchain edition, later moving to more accessible platforms.
Go back several decades, and you’ll discover similar crashes and burns. In the 1990s, there were the highly touted wonders of the Philips Digital Compact Cassette and the Sony Minidisc. The Philips format was discontinued in 1996 with less than 250 titles. The Minidisc is still around, but if you spot one in actual use, call the police. Good luck finding a working player.
Also worthy of your consideration in the audio format Hall of Shame are the DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, RealAudio, and even the MP3, the format that almost ruined the record industry via Napster, but now is building it back up thanks to streaming. Heck, the record industry used to delete popular artists in vinyl, hoping to sell compact discs to those who still wanted the music, and for a time, it was hard to find turntable repairs outside of the biggest cities.
So, go ahead and buy the Kings of Leon NFT. It may someday be worth a lot. Just like that Digital Compact Cassette holding open your door, it will likely offer perfect sound forever, as was promised at the dawn of the compact disc age. That’s before it was discovered that CDs degrade over time because their recording layers are made with a dye that is extremely photosensitive.