Does My iPod Play 78’s?

At the mid-point of 2008, U.S. album sales stand at an 11% decline when compared to the same period a year ago. Though not as precipitous a drop as the one recorded in the first half of 2007 (15.1%), this year’s first half tally is 204.6 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s compared to 229.8 million units scanned in the first six months of 2007.

That drop is fueled largely by the 16.3% decrease in CD sales; digital albums posted a 34.4% increase to 31.6 million units and now account for 15.4% of album sales. Digital tracks continue to be a bright spot, growing 30% to 532.7 million units in the six month period ended June 29. That compares with the 417.3 million recorded in the six-month period ended July 1, 2007.

It’s a strange world, isn’t it? This morning, I woke up, and I picked up one of the tapes from beside my bed. A copied version of an album by an obscure band from my home town, I found myself turning the tape over and over in my hands. I don’t have a large tape collection, but I do have one that means the world to me – even though I don’t listen to any of them anymore. I used to record straight off the radio – spending hours in my room at night, listening to a variety of stations – and I listened to those tapes so much, even now, years later, I can tell you everything about those tapes – the order of the songs; when some had the first or last few seconds cut off; the DJ prattle over others…

It was only towards the end of college that I downloaded my first ever digital songs – Josh Rouse’s “Directions” and Alkaline Trio’s “Private Eye”. From there, over the last few years, I’ve grown my CD collection hugely, but my digital music collection infinitely.

Recently, I was reading an article about the quality of music – those who still feel vinyl is the “warmest” and that a CD sounds vastly superior to an MP3. I do own a couple of records, and have to admit I think that they sound the best of any media – but for myself, and for millions of others (as evidenced in the Billboard excerpt above), technology lurches ever onwards, and drags us all with it…

And so this morning I found myself turning that tape over and over, thinking about the thousands of songs that fit on a piece of technology no bigger than a tape.

I know it’s progress. But it’s still okay to reminisce.

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