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Research highlights environmentally friendly nature of digital music distribution

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October 12, 2009

The aging optical disc takes another hit from environmental research as online sales grow

The aging optical disc takes another hit from environmental research as online sales grow

Despite the music industry being relatively slow to catch on to the fact that accessing music online is clearly the way forwards, the phasing out of DRM and appearance of innovative new services that offer consumers more choice, convenience and easy access to tunes, suggests that things are falling into place. One area that is often omitted when discussing the pros and cons of online is the environment, and it stands to reason that there would be a noticeable impact when you remove the cost of both printing CDs and delivering them to the consumer.

A report compiled by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University has been issued to the Microsoft and Intel corporation outlining such findings, and though the general conclusion would seem fairly obvious, the intricacies warrant a closer look.

The study assesses energy and CO2 emissions associated with either delivery of an album of music in the traditional way and via the internet, and results show that online purchases generally result in between a 40% and 80% saving. Factors that affect this include the method of delivery, whether or not the consumer then burns tracks to CD themselves, and whether or not jewel cases and inlays are involved.

Interestingly, it seems as though there is a situation where online music is no more efficient than printed discs, and this is dependent on whether a consumer walks rather than drives to a store and the file-size of a downloaded album, which itself incurs costs in Internet energy. By this token, streaming music rather than downloading it is also less efficient, though the report does point out that as online purchases become more popular and internet access more widespread, efficiency increases.

If you’re interested in the full details of the research and testing procedures, check out the full report here.

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