While you were busy not paying attention, the world changed: “Buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.” That stat could be a smidge misleading, since an album may consist of, say, 12 songs, and only get counted as a single purchase, but still, “Individual songs account for roughly two-thirds of all music sales volume in the United States.”
We all know that the theory was that digital downloads would let people only purchase the songs they liked, rather than the entire album, but I had no idea the tide had shifted this far already. Me, I’ve bought exactly one single from iTMS in the past few years – a track from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, which I needed for a performance piece we were prepping for a friend’s wedding.
That wee melanoma aside, I still think almost entirely in terms of albums. Doesn’t mean I think the album is sacrosanct – I do delete duds from the collection without regret when they don’t warrant a place in the stash. But at eMusic, iTunes, and name-that-download-site, I smoke only full albums (though I don’t inhale). It’s not some kind of pride thing, and it may in fact indicate a form of stupidity, but it’s just the way I am. Perhaps a sign of age.
Two factors at work here: 1) The gestalt of the album is dead (or at least it smells funny) – people not raised on vinyl don’t have that flip-it-over, we’re-not-done-yet thing in their blood, and 2) Artists and labels are being punished for a decade of dross. When the ratio of keeper tracks to flotsam gets low enough, no consumer in their right minds is going to pay for 90% fillah.
Most importantly, I think the atomic nature of data structures on the internet are having an effect on our brains. We don’t read entire web pages, let alone books. We Google for the keyword, then Cmd-F to find the answer on the page. We don’t channel surf to discover, we BitTorrent the stuff we already know we like. We don’t buy an album per week and digest it two dozen times from the comfort of a beanbag chair, we download a track from MySpace and listen to it twice in the background. Jeff Kempler of EMI nails it:
Perpetuating a business model that fixates on a particular packaged product configuration is inimical to what the Internet enables, and itâ€™s inimical to what many consumers have clearly voted for.
Trying not to sound maudlin or sentimental, but dammit, we’re going to lose something important here. AOR is not a bad word, and Out of the Blue is not just some brachiating XML tree waiting to be parsed.
Bits are winning. I miss atoms.