According to this recent Rolling Stone news report, consumers still buy music! A lot of music, if not anywhere near as much as in years past - and increasingly, they're buying it in non-corporeal form. Which means mp3s. Which means - to absolutely no-one's surprise - that the compact disc is that much closer to extinction, or at least marginalization.
What follows isn't really an obituary for this format - too many of those have been written already, and most of them were written too early - but some personal observations from somebody who's had a love/hate relationship with the format over the years.
The "Puss"/"Oh The Guilt" split CD single - Jesus Lizard on one side, Nirvana on the other - was the first CD I ever bought, back in 1993. Shellac's At Action Park was the second, and marked the point where I finally shed the tape-only bias I irrationally dragged around like an albatross in high school.
My wife and I bought exactly one - one! - CD in a store in 2009. It's a pretty good CD. Actually, no, scratch that. I bought maybe, like, 50 or 60 CDs. Blank CD-Rs. Hah! I've gotta admit, there's a sort of empty, guilty feeling attached to ambling into an FYE where one can almost watch the CD section shrink in real-time and going over the accessories, where the $1.00, 2-CDr packages have been marked down to $0.29, then taking three of these packages to the counter. You know why you're buying these; the clerk knows why you're buying them. You know that he knows that you downloaded some shit from the net for free and you're gonna burn it to disc. He knows that you don't want an FYE card or whatever, but he has to smile and ask, and you have to politely decline and make small talk as an industry dies slowly and horribly around us. Awkward!
For the last few years, I've received monthly email updates from Fusetron, an NYC-based distributor of noise rock, drone rock, underground malfeasance, and other sonic flavors unpalatable to the public at large; these updates list whatever new releases are available for consumption. (This month, the offerings include releases from Regression, Voltigeurs, and the Flower-Corsano Duo.) You know what I've been noticing lately? With an unnerving frequency, vinyl and cassette are the preferred formats for these recordings, which are often limited-edition. Everybody knows that it's possible to convert those formats to mp3 pretty easily; it makes me a little sad that labels and artists seem to be retreating into this sort of white-flag-waving mentality where records are artifacts of little value beyond advertising one's shows or festival slots or whatever. (And yes, I know that lots of underground types prize vinyl, and that the cassette is perversely popular in certain circles. But it used to be that a CD release was a given while the other formats were optional, and that seems to be dying off as a paradigm.)
Now, a question for the critics and bloggers among you. Is it just me, or are digital download promos just a little less exciting than opening up one's mailbox to find manila envelopes rubberbanded together, stuffed with one-sheets and swag? There's just something dull about mass-emailed invites to enter a code and click a link for the new Fucked Up singles compilation or what have you, and the lack of a physical object increases the likelyhood that Cassius Cornrow's new double-album will get any kind of airing. (Then when you re-discover the email weeks later, the download doesn't work! Gotta love the modern age.)
You know how some record stores have those "new release" boards? Where employees get hot neon markers and scribble, say, "June 3rd" and then underneath, they'll write the names of "tent pole" releases for that day? Don't those boards seem kind of desperate and oblivious, now? Because at this point, going to record stores on Tuesdays is like going to church in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
You know what? Despite all the snark above, there's absolutely no satisfaction, no thrill of the chase or rush of accomplishment, in simply Googling an album title and a band name and "mediafire" and getting hold of an album in five minutes flat.