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Amazon to launch auto rip, an effort to sex up CDs

It's the biggest news involving the compact disc in years: Amazon is expected to reward CD buyers by automatically storing the songs in their digital lockers free of charge, sources tell CNET -- and it may do the same for past CD purchases.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read
Compact discs
Greg Sandoval/CNET

Update January 10 at 6:10 a.m. PT: Amazon has now introduced its AutoRip service.)

LAS VEGAS -- The compact disc has long been left for dead by most tech-savvy music fans, but Amazon apparently still sees some life left in the format.

Amazon managers are expected to announce soon that CD buyers from now on will automatically receive copies of the same tracks stored in their Amazon cloud, free of charge, multiple sources with knowledge of the plan told CNET. The cloud-stored tunes can then be accessed from Web-enabled devices.

The feature is being referred to internally as "auto rip," but the sources cautioned that the name could change. An Amazon representative wasn't immediately available. I'll update as soon as I hear back from the company.

This is the most significant initiative involving the CD in years, but try this one on: Amazon may also decide to store songs from past CD purchases free of charge, according to the sources. That could represent a lot of music. A decade ago, before iTunes launched, it was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who was king of online music sales. This was in the days when purchasing Web music meant ordering a CD, back before downloading songs became popular.

Amazon's strategy is similar to what Hollywood has done in the past year. Five of the six top film studios are trying to breathe life into DVD and Blu-ray discs with an effort they call UltraViolet. A consortium of studios, hardware and software companies teamed together to develop standards for distributing movies in the cloud.

The group seeks to make movies purchased off the Web compatible with any device or service in the hope of enticing people to buy and collect these movies the same way as DVDs. One of the ways UV backers are trying to generate interest is by rewarding disc buyers with access to a cloud-stored copies of their films.

The entertainment industry hasn't given up on physical media and there's a good reason for that. Lots of people still buy discs.

According to 2012 music sales compiled by research firm Nielsen Soundscan, the CD is still the dominant music format. Still, the CD is definitely in decline -- sales fell 12.8 percent last year while digital album sales increased 14 percent and digital tracks rose 5 percent. CDs and DVDs certainly do not represent the future.

But Amazon, which is well back of Apple's iTunes in music sales, will be able to tell the large number of consumers who still prefer their music on disc that they're getting more value for their money, and this could help the retailer take a larger share of that business. It's a smart move.