Once upon a time, when you could still find a payphone on every corner, there was nothing like busting open a brand new CD. Sure, the plastic wrap was aggravating, but once you won that battle, you couldn’t wait to break out the booklet and start flipping through it. It’s a really small experience that is slowly disappearing and that many may not even care about now. Yeah, you can still buy new albums physically, but the majority are being released in flimsy digipak cases.
Digipaks are those gatefold cases usually made out of paper stock and lately more record companies are using them. They do have their uses, mainly for independent bands trying to cut down on costs. They also take up less room, but now that they are used for almost all music releases it can be aggravating for music collectors. If the packaging is done right then it’s not so bad, but sometimes it’s downright lazy. Perfect example is Marilyn Manson’s Born Villain. It features nothing more than his picture on the cover with “Lyrics available at Bornvillain.com” printed inside. Nothing else. No booklet, no other pictures, nothing. For $13 you expect a little more. This type of laziness is unfortunately becoming more common.
More companies seem to be resorting to digipaks because they figure many people don’t purchase music physically anymore. Fair enough, but with this assumption in place it may take an affect on how the entire record is presented, like the artwork. Don’t get me wrong, there is still some great album artwork out there, but with most booklets spanning two pages it seems like less effort is put into it. It’s not a huge deal, but it takes away from the whole album experience: flipping through the booklet while listening to the new music, trying to find hidden tidbits, learning the lyrics, and take it all in. Now there’s none of that. Maybe you’ll get some lyrics if you’re lucky.
With the packaging the way it is now, we lose out on so many fun extras artists may be inspired to include with the album. For Mechanical Animals, Manson released it in a stark blue case, which was used to decipher cryptic messages in the booklet. Sometimes artists would even include little facts about the songs. And what about when a record has such amazing artwork you want to hang it on your wall? Now, it seems like to get detailed booklets and better casing for the disc itself, you have to pay extra for the deluxe editions (Depeche Mode, Green Day). Also, the current cases seem easier to damage: they could bend, crease, get wet, fold, and even tear depending on how durable the stock they use is. Crystal cases usually crack easily, but you never have to worry about the ends fraying or the entire packaging getting warped.
The other downside of digipaks is the way the disc is handled. Sure, jewel cases can be finicky, but at least there was a suitable spot for the disc. Most of the album packaging now resorts to pockets where the CD slides out. This is beyond annoying. Not only do you have to shake around the case in order to get the disc unless you want to completely dent it, but if this method doesn’t work you have to risk touching the underside of the disc just to get it out. Also, some of the cases are so thin, they’re almost non-existent. While some of the newer cases do include a disc tray to keep the CD safe, most do not. They’re even using this style of packaging for CD/DVD combinations. Muse’s last live album came with a blu-ray. Both discs and a booklet were stuffed into two pockets. You would think by including a blu-ray disc you would get better packaging.
The whole digipak thing is not a huge deal. It won’t keep me from buying albums or anything like that. All I’m trying to say is it takes away from a small enjoyable experience that was part of losing yourself in a new album. There are some good sides to the new packaging, like taking up less space and cutting costs for bands, but they aren’t as satisfying. Not everything about crystal cases are great, but they’re a bit more stable. Maybe it’s just me being a weird obsessed music lover, but it’s something I think about whenever I get a new album. Maybe you feel the same way or perhaps you just don’t care. All I know is it’s one of those things you appreciate and miss as time goes on.