The continuing decline of CD album sales for the eighth consecutive year in 2008 and the growth of vinyl and digital music formats has local retailers, musicians and record labels considering new approaches to the music business.
A Dec. 31 New York Times article cited Nielsen SoundScan statistics for 2008 showing a 14 percent decline in CD sales and full-album downloads from 2007. Sales for vinyl records and digital downloads increased by 89 and 32 percent, respectively, according to the Nielsen report.
Local musicians' and businesses' experiences backed up the national trends, marked by flagging sales of CD albums and a shift of consumer interest online.
"The transition into digital ... may take awhile to finish, but we've certainly seen a lot more growth on that front," said Chris Thomas, the president of Palo Duro Records, headquartered in Chattanooga.
Digital music broke through the 1 billion download mark for the first time in 2008, a 27 percent increase over 2007, according to Nielsen statistics.
With CD sales slowing and the capability to sell a theoretically unlimited number of tracks online without manufacturing and distribution costs, Palo Duro is currently shifting to being primarily digital, Mr. Thomas said.
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Here are sales figures for the top 10 best-selling albums last year in the digital and vinyl formats:
"Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends" - Coldplay
"Juno" - Soundtrack
"Sleep Through The Static" - Jack Johnson
"Tha Carter III" - Lil Wayne
"We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things." - Jason Mraz
"As I Am" - Alicia Keys.
"Little Voice" - Sara Bareilles
"Dreaming Out Loud" - OneRepublic
"Death Magnetic" - Metallica
"Paper Trail" - T.I.
"In Rainbows" - Radiohead
"Abbey Road" - The Beatles
"Chinese Democracy" - Guns 'N Roses
"Funplex" - B-52s
"Third" - Portishead
"In the Aeroplane ..." - Neutral Milk Hotel
"Dark Side of the Moon" - Pink Floyd
"Fleet Foxes" - Fleet Foxes
"Death Magnetic" - Metallica
"O.K. Computer" - Radiohead
Source: Nielsen SoundScan
Despite the tremendous growth of online sales, digital and CD sales won't reach parity for awhile, and at present, the industry's current outlook is bleak, Mr. Thomas said.
"The future of recorded music is pretty uncertain right now," he said. "It's a struggle, probably the hardest struggle we've ever experienced. The business model is very much in flux. There will be a lot more carnage before we see the bottom."
The transition away from CDs has local artists weighing what they should put on the merchandise table.
Local blues/punk band The Black Diamond Heavies offers music at its shows in both a vinyl and CD format even though pianist John Wesley Myers, a self-proclaimed "vinyl junkie," said he thinks the band could survive on vinyl and digital sales.
Diversity is still important, Mr. Myers said.
"If people come to the show, we can deliver a good enough show to make them want to take some music home with them," he said. "A lot of times, people will buy the CDs and the vinyl, (so) having the two mediums ... is, from a business point of view, pretty smart."
For the same reason, Chad's Records on Vine Street stocks an inventory of used music and movie DVDs and CDs to support vinyl albums, which are its strongest sellers, said owner Chad Bledsoe.
Successful artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Amy Winehouse and Coldplay continue releasing albums on both CD and vinyl.
New vinyl releases often include a code to download the album in mp3 format for free, which is likely to ensure the format becomes even more popular, Mr. Bledsoe said.
"Now that you can get an mp3 or CD with pretty much any new vinyl release, you can't lose, I think," he said. "If you're halfway into vinyl, you're covered."