First came the phonograph, then radio, vinyl, 8-Track and cassette tape (dare I mention MiniDisc?) All of these once mainstream audio formats have fallen out of favour over the years, replaced by more modern, accessible technology.

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Image via technicolor76

The last remaining physical music presence, at least in mainstream society is the CD, but that might not be the case for much longer.

According to The Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report released last week, the music industry hit a major milestone in 2011, as digital music sales surpassed physical music sales for the first time ever. Here are some stats;

  • There were 1.27 billion digital tracks sold in 2011, a new record and 8.4% higher than 2010
  • Digital music sales accounted for 50.3% of all music purchases in 2011
  • Digital album sales exceeded 100 million for the first time with a new all-time high of 103.1 million sales, an increase of nearly 20% on 2010
  • While total digital album growth was 20% in 2011, certain genres flourished more than others. Most noticeably; Rap and Electronic (up 42%), Country and R&B (up 27%) and Latin (up 23%)
  • For the first time ever, a digital song had more than five million downloads in a calendar year; Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” (5.8 million) and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” (5.5 million)
  • For the first time, more than 100 Digital Songs (112) exceeded the 1 million sales mark for the year
  • In 2011 there were 38 different digital songs with sales that exceeded two million (compared to 37 in 2010, 31 in 2009, 19 in 2008 and nine in 2007)
  • In 2011, eight different artists broke the 10 million digital track sales mark

Facts done, now for a slightly hypercritical, nostalgic rant.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that although I’m pleased to see the digital music industry flourishing, I can’t help but feel a little sad about the decline of physical formats that I’ve grown to know and love.

I’m one of the few weirdo’s who still buys CDs – an actual item that I can pick up, admire, read, carry to my car, share with friends and store on my shelf with the rest of my music collection.

Digital music is different. I’m all for instant gratification but digital media has become almost too accessible, meaning there’s no connection with the product as it’s filed on our computer with all our other media, probably destined for a life on the ‘shuffle’ playlist.

Understandably the vast majority of people don’t care how and where their music originates and it’s each to their own, but let’s not lose touch with the bigger picture because there’s so much more to music than an an audio file.

Long live the CD.