Download delusions? CDs are still the album format of choice

Despite all the hype about digital downloads and hysteria over the death of the recording industry, 96.5 per cent of all album sales are still sold in the form of the CD, writes Dominic Dawes. While downloads have had a huge impact on the sales of singles, the traditional round disc is still trouncing digital distribution when it come to the good ol' long player.

So have we been overestimating the impact of legal download sites such as iTunes, Napster et al?

Perhaps. Actual CD sales figures paint a very different – a much healthier – picture of the music industry than many of the doomsayers would have you believe.

In the first half of 2007, Fifty-eight million CD albums were sold in the UK. That's almost one for every man, woman and child in the entire country, and in just one six-month period.

And this is a significant increase of 32 per cent over the same period in 1997 – a period, lest we forget, in which a New Labour government, Britpop, The YBAs (young British artists) and the whole culture of 'cool Britannia' had most of this country grinning like baboons and looking forward to a bright future – that in the opinion of most almost entirely failed to materialise.

The point is, we bought CDs back then: we rushed out to purchase Oasis' What's the Story Morning Glory in our millions, and eagerly compared it to Blur's The Great Escape. Then we watched the two bands get drunk and hurl insults at each other. What fun we had...

Ten years later – if you believe the hype – the music industry is in meltdown and record company executives are booking one-way flights to the south pole where they intend to bury what little remains of their hard cash and go into hibernation until such time as the 'orrible interweb' ceases to exist and stops bothering them.

And yet – we Brits are actually buying almost a third more CDs than we were ten years ago. Could it be that all the doom and gloom is mere hogwash and balderdash?

'CDs remain very attractive to consumers, and they still represent the overwhelming majority of sales,' says BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor. 'Album units have dipped year on year recently, but we are still selling 32 per cent more CDs than 10 years ago.'

Some observers believe the fact that only 3.5 per cent of all albums bought are sold as digital files could mean long-term trouble for digital music stores such as iTunes.

Analyst Mark Mulligan of Jupiter Research said: 'These numbers highlight one of the paradoxes that digital poses for the music industry: digital is clearly where the momentum is. However, the iTunes-dominated distribution model has created a business model which is simply not in the interests of the record labels.'

'A cynic could extend the argument that much of what is on albums isn't worth buying,' Mulligan continues. 'Digital music sales need to provide heavy consumer incentives to buy multiple tracks and albums - the EMI DRM-free album pricing is a valuable step in the right direction.'

Digital downloading is here to stay. But so, for a very long time yet, is the good old CD. What we need from the music industry is less hype and panic, just more choice and information. And if artists and labels end up wanting us to download more complete albums (rather than just individual tracks), well... they may just have to find a way of making better albums that make us want to do just that.

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