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CDs aren't obsolete yet, but time is coming

Music is a huge part of our culture. It helps us learn, thrive and prosper as civilizations. It will always be a part of our lives, but in what form?

 Each year, humanity invents new devices to help us more easily live our lives. Apple is a huge contributor to technology, having invented the Mac, iPod, iPhone and, most recently, the iPad.

The company is also home to the world's largest and most popular online music store, iTunes, which has 6 billion sales and counting. Are all these music downloads responsible for the decline of CDs, though?

Vinyl records, the oldest of music storage devices, were created in the late 1800s. In the 1960s, 8-tracks and tapes were invented. CDs followed in the '80s. Now, the world has diverted its attention to MP3 downloads.

Since computers are such a vital part of our lives, music downloading sites such as iTunes, Amazon and Rhapsody seem to be the way to go. They are fast, convenient and easy to use. We can browse the Internet while our music downloads and then simply transfer the MP3s to our music player.

We don't even have to leave our home. Everything we want is at our fingertips with Internet access.

In 2006, just five years ago, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry compared the number of hard copies to music downloads. Only 10 percent of music sales were electronic copies. However, CD sales plunged 20 percent that year.

The percentage of downloads continues to rapidly increase, narrowing the gap each year. According to a January report by National Public Radio, downloads are a large percentage of artists' revenue (especially for pop artists such as Ke, whose electronic copies equaled 35.6 percent of her total sales in 2010). However, they are not completely dominating the record industry: yet.

One key factor for this is people often only buy one song at a time. Rather than buying records, we buy a song here and a song there; 99 cents is not much compared to the $10 or more the whole record would cost.

Could the decline in CDs be a decline of art in one of its finest forms?

Each CD has album artwork that in some cases, such as Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," is famous and universally recognizable. Many artists have certain symbols and pictures that define them as artists.

Also, the inside packet of album covers have lyrics, pictures and, in many cases, stories. Downloading a song off the Internet lacks the aesthetic connection that one feels when owning a hard copy of an album.

The world of downloading affects not only the music business, but also the television industry. Shows such as "Glee" and "American Idol" advertise downloads weekly. Why? To boost popularity of the show. They want you to not only enjoy their show every week at 8 p.m., but also all day long on your iPod and in your car with it hooked up to the speakers.

No one ever asks you to go out and buy the CDs; they simply suggest you log onto your iTunes account and purchase the album there. Product placement in these kinds of shows causes both iTunes and the TV stations to make loads more cash by attracting a diverse audience. ITunes hopes that, while you download music from tonight's episode of "Glee," you will kindly browse its entire library.

Perhaps owning songs at the click of a button is much too simple, but from the looks of recent song sales, it is possible that even the most avid CD collectors will have to convert to downloading. As time goes on and technology advances, maybe the download will possess enough reliability to outdate the beloved CD.

(Currently, iTunes has many problems with file corruption, and many times, its users lose all of their online copies.)

However, in 50 years, the next new trend could replace the music download. By then, owning a CD will be like owning a piece of history, much like owning a vinyl record is today.

As for me, I'm going to pop Foster the People's "Torches" CD into my outdated stereo because I think music sounds better that way.


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