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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Why Physical is Still a Viable Format, & Might Always Be
Wednesday, January 09, 2013

At a New Music Seminar panel held in the summer of 2012, titled Breakthrough Trends In The Music Industry, a whole slew of statistics regarding physical and digital music formats was discussed. One of the most interesting stats was that through the first half of 2012 CD sales dropped to 61% of all albums sold. Some pundits feel this is yet more evidence that the physical format’s day is done and we’re well on our way to living in an all digital future. I see it as evidence that although digital may be the future, it clearly isn’t the only thing guiding the present.

I will never claim to be math whiz, but when I see CDs making up 61% of all album sales, simple arithmetic tells me that artists who decided to go digital-only in 2012 reached just 39% of their potential sales. That’s the difference between selling 10K albums and selling 3,900 albums. So even if digital is the future, it’s important to realize we live in the present.

This isn’t the first time a new way to listen to music has affected sales of the physical format. In 1922 record sales peaked at 100 million. Due to the advent of radio, however, as well as radio sounding better than the phonograph records at the time, and the Great Depression affecting people’s wallets, between 1927 and 1932 record sales dropped to one fortieth of that number (Country Music USA, Third Edition, pg. 34). One fortieth!!! Do you know what’s still around today, nearly 100 years later? Records... and radio. Both found a way to live together harmoniously (if you’ll excuse the music pun).

Some of you may say, “OK Adam, that’s albums, but we’re in a singles based industry now, so it’s really all about the song.” I won’t deny, like in the age of the 45, the industry has temporarily become singles based, but don’t let huge singles sales by big name artists fool you, they’re the only ones actually doing well with the format.

At the same panel that discussed CD sales, it was noted that 8 million different songs were downloaded in 2011. Unfortunately for the independent artists out there, 94% of those songs were downloaded less than 100 times, and 30% were downloaded only 1-2 times. This means only 6% of digital singles were pulling in significant sales numbers.

It’s also important to remember that, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report in 2012, only 66% of American adults age 18+ have a high-speed broadband connection at home. Sounds crazy, right? If you have broadband, you’re actually kind sorta privileged. Sometimes those of us located in big cities, where we log on everywhere, don’t remember that.

Is digital an important part of the present? Of course. It would be ridiculous to deny that, but it would be equally ridiculous to claim that we’re in an all digital industry and physical album sales are a thing of the past. Physical product still matters, and if history is any indicator, in some way, shape, or form, it always will.

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