(By Christopher Spata | December 13, 2016 for Tampa Bay Times)
CDs were the perfect Christmas gift.
They fit inside a stocking and were small enough to send cheaply through the mail. They were easy to wrap. They were exactly the right price for staying within price limits of family and work gift exchanges, and yet they still allowed for a personalized, creative gift. You could shop for them almost anywhere, and have a blast doing it.
Gifting albums to people is the best. I'd also venture to say that getting them as Christmas gifts was an important means of musical discovery and taste-shaping for generations of people right up until the digital era.
Think of all those times during childhood that some well-wishing aunt gave you a random album for Christmas that was not your taste at all. You listened to it anyway, and maybe you ended up loving it. Maybe it changed everything.
In 1994, I'd recently proclaimed that I only listened to rap music. For Christmas I wanted a copy of Warren G's Regulate...G Funk Era. I mistakenly received a copy of Green Day's Dookie. I was annoyed when I opened it, but I listened to it over and over anyway, because I was 11 and didn't have money to buy my own CDs. But that's how I discovered punk!
The music industry, and consumers, replaced CDs with digital music. This is a good thing, but sadly they never replaced the void CDs left as a Christmas gift. As they disappear, so does the best method of giving an album as a gift (and no more life-changing punk rock accidents).
Yes, you can still buy CDs, but the selection is paltry, and most people I know don't use CD players anymore. You can buy someone an album on vinyl, which is cool, but impractical for real, repeated listening (and have you ever tried to mail a record?).
And sure, you can buy someone an iTunes gift card, but that's totally missing the point of this once personal gift. I need to choose the album I'm gifting, not leave it up to the giftee to shop for it online.
Buying an album for someone is the ultimate reccommendation. You can tell a friend "you need to listen to this," but give it to them as a gift and they actually will. Sometimes you just know the perfect album someone needs in their life. It can open eyes, make a statement, send a message. It can pull someone up when they're low.
So here's what I'm asking the music industry and retailers to do: put albums back on brick-and-mortar store shelves in a tangible, useful way during the Christmas season by creating gift cards for specific albums.
Put them on the racks where the CDs used to go, and in the places where the iTunes gift cards now sit. Make them look pretty with album art and track listings. Sell them for $10-$20. Give me something to wrap or put in a card and give to my friends and family.