Article: Digital crate digging

With the internet making obtaining music a lot easier these days, is the digital market negatively affecting physical copies? Or are physical copies still holding their own against the much easier and sometimes free digital files?

Since the emergence of online retailers like iTunes, Rhapsody, and eMusic, digital sales have outnumbered vinyl records by almost 25 million this year. In 2008, there were 27.52 million digital files sold, compared to 151 million CD’s sold and 1.9 million vinyl records. Digital files are much easier to obtain. Instead of going to the record shop and purchasing the album there, you can now do it in the comfort of your own home with the click of a button. And you don’t even have to rip the CD so you can put the songs on your iPod- they already come iPod formatted. iTunes sometimes add “bonus tracks”, and sometimes that might interest the fan even more . In short, the convenience and extra songs are more than enough reason for the consumer to go the digital road.

Another digital market that can not be accounted for is the illegal downloads. Illegal downloads offer the same files digital retailers offer, but free. There are many speculations that iTunes use the exact same programs internet bootleggers use, Exact Audio Copy (EAC). That raises a huge question: Why buy digital files when all they are giving me is something I could get for free? With buying a physical copy, you get the artwork, tracklist, the liner notes, shoutouts, etc. With buying it from online retailers, all you get is the songs, the same songs you get from bootleggers.

There is some hope out there. Vinyl sales have skyrocketed in the last two years. Sales have gone up 90% from 2007 to 2008 and sales were up 50% in the first five months compared to 2008. Soundscan says vinyl records will reach 2.9 million. Independent record shops, responsible for a huge chunk of sales, don’t use Soundscan, so their numbers shouldn’t be heavily relied on. Audiophiles claimed for the longest time that “vinyl sounds better” and now people are starting to recognize the significance of vinyl records and why they haven’t died like their successor, cassette tapes.

All in all, the internet has helped consumers to easily obtain their music. They can hit ‘purchase’ in the warmth of their own home. Likewise, instead of clicking ‘purchase’, you can now get the same quality music for free. Finally, the vinyl comeback has showed us there is a light at the end of the tunnel and physical copies will never die out like the 8-track tape.


Words by: Osman Ahmed
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