Carter Hooper had a problem. The 51-year-old from New Orleans had spent years lugging around his collection of 900 CDs.
"Those things survived Katrina, actually," he says. "I was in Katrina; I was in Biloxi, Miss., in a building that almost got blown away, but I had stacked those precious things up in the closet."
Then, Hooper discovered Murfie, a business in Madison, Wis., where he could ship all of his CDs for free and still retain ownership of them.
Murfie is a lot of things to a lot of people. But to Hooper, it was a dream come true: Murfie will burn your old discs to a digital file, recycle the cases and even resell the album online. It's part garage sale, part iTunes.
Murfie digitized Hooper's entire collection, and now he can access all of his CDs online through Murfie's website.
The site also lets members have their own personal store where they can sell or trade albums from their collections. Murfie takes a 30 percent cut from a sale, but trades are free. Hooper says he's already netted about $50.
Co-founder Preston Austin admits it's not easy to describe Murfie.
"It's like well, 'It's sort of like eBay or Swap.com combined with iTunes or an Amazon music locker,'" he says.
But unlike iTunes, Murfie still deals in real, physical CDs. You just never see them. Their warehouse houses tens of thousands of CDs ordered for easy access.
Despite those big numbers, the warehouse is actually smaller than most living rooms. It's the central space in Murfie's office suite on the eighth floor of a downtown bank building. Inside the warehouse are two silver utility shelves. Each one is packed top to bottom with hundreds of open-top white boxes, like shoe boxes. Inside each box are dozens of individual CDs and their jackets, barcoded and nested inside plain white envelopes.
The plastic cases are nowhere to be seen. That's because they're valuable. Murfie recycles them, making $1,500 a ton, and Austin estimates they'll recycle 100 tons of cases in the next year.
All those CDs come from members like Hooper. Some are using Murfie to sell or trade their CD collections. Others have Murfie rip their music, which costs a dollar per album to download. And some are just storing their CD collections for $12 a year.
"In the background we've got all these CDs that are sort of shifting ownership in our warehouse," says Murfie co-founder Matt Younkle. "Everything comes back to ownership of real, physical property. We just make it really easy to preserve that ownership without having a box of plastic discs in your closet. You put them in Murfie's warehouse instead."
According to the CD-recycling Center of America, a lot of people struggle with their CDs. It says every month about 100,000 pounds of discs become obsolete, and millions get tossed each year. Austin estimates in the U.S. alone, there are about 15 billion used CDs just sitting around in basements and bargain bins.
But no longer in Hooper's basement. He was one of Murfie's first customers and says he's now hooked on the convenience.
"It's like an old-school record store, you know, digitized," Hooper says. "It's just an idea waiting to happen. And it's perfect for me. It's exactly how I wanted to separate myself from my CDs."
Digital record store, online CD library, remote garage sale — Murfie may be hard to define, but that won't stop it from expanding. Right now, it just accepts CDs, but it might soon take vinyl. And Murfie hopes to someday branch out to comics, magazines, even books, and become the one-stop shop for your online media library.