The Extended Extinction of CDs

As former leader of the rock band Talking Heads, as well as a successful solo artist, David Byrne obviously has a vested interest in seeing music sell in some form. But he predicts that one day, perhaps soon, this form will no longer be tangible. In a May 2006 blog entry, he wrote that packaged albums will become “a thing of the past, as most music is purchased or listened to online and stored on an iPod or a computer.”

Most musicians and musicologists would view this outcome with displeasure. But Byrne is philosophical about it, making an interesting point about how this migration fits into the overall history of music.

“Music didn’t always come in packages,” Byrne said. “The era of packaged music may have had about a 50-year run.”

The question is when exactly that run will end — and why.

Since CD sales have plummeted with the introduction of music downloading, and since downloaded music acts as a logical replacement for a purchased CD, it seems pretty basic to conclude that CD sales are in decline because of downloading.

“But there are economists who claim that they have demonstrated the opposite of that,” said Stan Liebowitz, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Dallas who is conducting research into the link between declining CD sales and downloading. “My research actually indicated it’s entirely responsible for the decline, but that’s not necessarily the general perception in the profession.”

Economists point to other factors such…



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