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10 Million iPods, Previewing the CD's End

Record executives devote a lot of thought to the future of the product they've long manufactured. "Five years from now, absolutely there will be CDs. Ten years from now, though, there will be fewer," compared with other digital music options, said Larry Miller, the 47-year-old CEO of the Or Music label, a Sony Corp. offshoot that gained notoriety this year for its biggest act, Los Lonely Boys, the Tex-Mex trio nominated for four Grammys. "As far as another [physical format], if it exists, I haven't heard about it. . . . When I look three to five years in the future, I believe that 20 to 25 percent of music purchased will be downloaded."

Sitting at your laptop, pressing a few buttons and cueing up Bob Dylan may not seem very rock-and-roll. Will air-guitaring give way to air-mousing? And with each listener compiling his own version of an album, will there even be "albums" anymore? Are we looking at a mixed-up, mix-tape future?

Fernando Rock checks out an iPod Mini in Palo Alto, Calif. Apple sold 8.2 million iPod digital players last year. (Paul Sakuma -- AP)

Review: Napster To Go (Post, Feb 13)
Review: iPod Shuffle (Post, Jan 23)
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Not anytime soon. The compact disc has had a great run -- developed by Philips and Sony in 1979, introduced to the United States in the spring of 1983, 1 billion in world sales by 1990. And it's still going strong.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, which keeps official tabs on point-of-purchase sales of recorded music, 2004 was a comeback year for the CD. Sales of CD albums, which make up 98 percent of all album sales, were up 2.3 percent compared with 2003. (R&B hunk Usher, who is up for eight awards at tonight's Grammys, was the top-selling artist in 2004, moving more than 9 million copies of his album "Confessions.")

These are hopeful numbers for an industry that saw sales plummet over the four previous years.

"I think CDs are going to be around for a long time," said Petersen. "The cassette was a silly format. It was never designed to be a high-fidelity format. Plus like LPs, you had to flip the media over halfway through. Music buyers are still replacing all their favorite albums on CD."

"Remember," Miller said, "college kids and urban adults are buying their music online, but everybody else is buying their records at Best Buy and Wal-Mart."

However, there are other, contradictory statistics lurking out there:

During the second half of 2004, more than 91 million digital tracks -- songs downloaded from the Internet -- were sold, compared with 19.2 million in the same period in 2003. That's an increase of 376 percent.

More than 140 million digital tracks were purchased during 2004. Plus in the last week of 2004, digital track sales hit a record 6.7 million.

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