Monday, May 19, 2014

The MiniDisc

On June 30th, 1994 the first promotional MiniDiscs were given away with an copy of Rolling Stone Magazine. It was issue RS 685. I can't say it went down in infamy because for the most part no one cared. The MiniDisc held 1 gigabyte of data, which at the time was decent. The fact that the ATRAC audio was lossy was irrelevant. Consumers were already attracted to MP3s which were even worse. CD-Rs were prohibitively expensive. It was a short time window of opportunity and they screwed it up with copy protection. Yet there remains a reason that it remains more enduring than the DAT ( Digital Audio Tape) and the DCC (Digital Compact Cassette.) But in a 4 way race coming in second is still not the same as winning.

Most sources claim it was marketed starting in 1992 but I think that's a tad premature.  A 1992 article in Popular Science described it as under development at Sony, and described it as a "miniature version of the compact disc."  It's safe to say the advertising campaign began in 1991, there were a number of fluff promotional articles that year. The big promo push began in 1994 with the distribution of promotional comps. Like this one. 
It tanked. CDs won the formats wars. But by 1999 Billboard magazine was calling for a MiniDisc resurgence. Overseas the media had found a new use as a home recording medium.  Sales were up for recording and playback devices. But retail sales for recorded music in that format were bupkis. It took Sony 5 years to sell the first million players.  They sold just as many in 1999 alone. But sales flat lined. In 1999 Billboard magazine called it "pirate-proof." No really "In the age of unprotected, illegal MP3 files floating around on the internet and rampant CD-R piracy, the supposedly "pirate-proof" MiniDisc (MD) is beginning to look relatively benign." 

In 2007 they dropped the copy protection and the device found greater utility for recording... not playback. But it was too late,  by then it was utterly obsolete. The indicators were there. Digital formats were on the rise, and despite the sentimental (and temporary) resurgence of vinyl... all physical formats were doomed. In 2013 Sony announced the end of their production by March of 2013.

The track listing is available here.  The final track is a promotional message that I'd love to hear but I sold my player years ago on Ebay.