CD packaging survival in the download market – Cut cost or add value?

Article By Chris Penfold Design Cognition

We’ve been having an interesting debate in the office over the past few days regarding the importance of innovative packaging for the CD market and how it could help CDs compete with the download market. Affiliated to this is the need to move forward in innovative ways in a market that is becoming more and more impacted by environmental concerns.

Many CD producers are trying to cut costs to compete but is that the right thing to do? And will it not just reduce packaging to a worthless commodity item that is just seen as waste?

During that debate we came up with some interesting insights and thought that it would be good to share them with you and elicit any comments that you might have.



Building Rapport with customers

We all experience the world around us in different ways – and all of our decisions are a result of our experience in and of that ‘world’. That worldly ‘understanding’ is built up using our senses – seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling & tasting. Everyone is different and ‘leans’ towards or away from these ‘representational systems’ in different ways & to different extents. This affects the way they act and assimilate information in everything they do – including buying decisions.


Those that prefer to see pictures are said to have a ‘visual’ representational system, those who prefer to hear sounds are termed ‘auditory’ and those preferring feeling & tactile sensations – ‘Kinaesthetic’.


In any purchasing situation, building ‘rapport’ with a customer is essential. So the above have important connotations for buyers & sellers.


On line v in-store

Face to face selling can obviously engage all senses and have greatest chance of success because it can be interactive. Internet downloads only engage with sound & (possibly) sight if ‘on-line’ pictures are used during the sales process.


CDs can be bought on-line and in-store. For people that prefer ‘visual & ‘kinaesthetic’ stimulus – this can be key to their decision to buy.


Many people that love to hold, flick through brochure pages, enjoy the tactile feel of the pages or packaging are more likely to prefer innovative CD pack formats than simple downloads.

So the more visual, tactile, interactive & fun you can make them – the better!


This is also a good and important way to build brand identity & loyalty.


As the download market grows, much of it via illegal file-sharing websites, CD sales are dropping because publishers have failed to capitalize on this and differentiate their offering.



Cutting the cost of CD packaging is easy. Ship them all to the Far East for production (if they aren’t already there) or put them in a plain brown paper bag. But what does that really achieve? Ultimately it devalues the brand, reduces the perceived value and the packaging just becomes another pieces of ‘waste’ destined for the bin.

In my view, there is a huge opportunity for building MORE positive engagement with consumers (something that downloads can’t emulate) by providing more innovative CD packaging, arousing more senses, using innovative tactile materials, picture albums & giveaways that can be kept & cherished by fans.


In future people’s need/demand for more information is sure to grow, which will favour visual/electronic means of doing so. So this and other innovations that could be exploited to better use on CDs in future include:

·         Smart materials – colour change, smart coatings – scratch’n’sniff, optical effects – lenticular graphics

·         Printed electronics – movie clips on a CD cover/booklet

·         2D barcodes – scanned with a mobile phone to link to web-based material, ensuring improved communication with consumers


On top of this, improved print technology provides greater opportunity for very short print runs that enable personalised packaging at a fraction of previous set-up costs. This means that, in theory, every consumer could have bespoke CD & packaging – targeted to their own individual needs & wants – how cool would that be? And how much would people be willing to pay. The answer is “it depends” – on the perceived added value of the proposition. If it’s innovative, funky or sexy enough – people will pay and they will pay lots more than they do now for the added, targeted benefits provided.


But, for sure internet based innovations for the download market won’t be far behind with technologies such as:

Movie downloads & band videos – already here

Fragrances – digitised – a type of ‘sctratch’n’sniff’ over the internet


All of this could ultimately lead to – the band playing in your living room – holographic download – which can’t be too far away!



However as ‘the environment’  is now higher up on people’s agendas and and so far sustainability is not being addressed in a big way.


Most CD cases are made of clear plastic which is generally non recyclable (PS). DVD cases, in their basic form, are usually injection moulded PP which is easier to recycle, but tend to be bigger (larger front face for graphics) using more resources. So which is better?


For more expensive ‘box set’ offerings, extra packaging can be used to good effect but must ‘add value’ and not just used as ullage and padding to make the consumer think that they are getting more for there money – such as the presentation pack below, this has 6 full size CD’s in a plastic box larger than a copy of the yellow pages  which , in my opinion, is thoroughly over-packaged and most of it unnecessary.








The Bart Simpson pack, on the other hand, although may be considered by some to be ‘over-packaged’ does actually have a post-purchase use and interaction with consumer in the form of scrap-book, diary and pictures. This type of format is great fun for kids (and probably many adults!) and could be adapted in a number of ways to add value to the adult CD market. They even do ‘limited edition’ versions in the shape of the major character’s heads!




There are also examples on the market of CDs being presented in simpler paper-based covers – which can still be innovative and provide the necessary protection. The example here was given to us at a trade show and ‘does it’s job’, but if being posted, would probably require more sturdy transit packaging to avoid damage – but again that is down to ingenuity.






Transit packaging

CDS & DVDs sold over the internet, even if they don’t necessarily need to be as ‘pretty’ in order to undertake a ‘selling’ job will have other packaging requirements, such as the need to surmount the rigours of a global postage & courier system, so that products arrive with a consumer undamaged.


Even here, however, there is a big difference between on-line sellers such as Amazon and in the amount of packaging used – the latter seeming to use far less. Whether that is because Amazon’s products have a more torrid transit route to undertake or are simply over-packaged I’m not sure.


In summary

It is my belief that for CDs to compete in the market with downloads, they should be ‘upping their game’ rather than just cutting cost. By positioning themselves as a higher-value gift proposition they will compete in a way that downloads won’t be able to and therefore command premium price. Consumers are likely to be positively influenced by innovative packaging that delivers environmental benefits, provided of course, that it also offers convenience and other performance benefits. As the environment takes higher priority in consumers’ mind, added packaging will be justified if it is seen to ‘add value’ in interesting ways that enable them to enjoy, interact and develop a greater affinity for their favourite brands.


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