In today’s Los Angeles Times, there is a fascinating article by Randy Lewis comparing physical vs. download sales of Michael Jackson recordings in the wake of his death (which I came upon via ArtsJournal). Lewis states that 2.5 million downloads of Jackson songs have taken place in the days following the announcement of his death which is an all-time record. But at the same time, Lewis also points out that 800,000 physical copies of Jackson albums have sold during the same period of time. According to one of his interviewees, a floor manager for my beloved Amoeba Records in Hollywood, Jackson’s grieving fans have been pouring into the store because they wanted to be able to hold on to something tangible and were also looking for in-person contact with others who felt the same way, neither of which is possible in the isolated non-corporeal realm of online music transactions.
But according to an article by Derek Thompson published yesterday on The Atlantic‘s business channel—with the provocative headline “Why Aren’t Kids These Days Downloading Music?“—even a download is too much of a burdensome possession for millennials and arguably for future generations. He cites a report stating that there’s been a trend away from downloading and keeping tracks on personal hard drives toward visiting streaming sites such as Pandora and YouTube where you listen in a less committal way.
Last night my ears were blown away by a live set performed by an octet of mostly South Dakotans now based in Astoria who call themselves Dirty Mac and the Bumper Crop Boys. I wound up coming home with the merch, a $5 self-produced handwritten CDR weirdly contained in plastic kitchen wrap kept sealed by a knotted rubber band. In a world where all recorded music can only be accessed in front of a computer, how many people would attend such a gig and remember to surf for these folks after they got home in order to get their music?
In Lewis’s L.A. Times piece, Keith Caulfield, senior chart manager for Billboard, claims that album sales during the first half of 2009 have still been overwhelmingly physical: 78.5% versus a mere 21.5% for complete album downloads. I for one was happy to see 45rpm singles go the way of the Edsel and I refused to ever sacrifice any personal real estate to make room for CD singles. But I will forever rue the day, if indeed such a day ever comes, when there are no physical recorded albums for me to buy and treasure for the rest of my life as well as to give to friends, family members, or professional colleagues and in the process potentially expand their world view.