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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More signs that the music business is changed

This time, the news comes from the U.K.:

Woolworths have announced that they will no longer sell CD singles in their stores because of the "terminal decline" of the format.

It could signal the end of the CD single as Woolworths is one of the largest music retailers, selling one in three of the UK's CDs.

Woolworths spokesperson, Daniel Himsworth, told 6 Music: "Well the CD single market is a rapidly declining market. In 2000, 55 million CD singles were sold, that was only 8 million in 2007.


The single was always more important in the U.K., as their single chart was entirely sales-driven. The battle for #1 between two competing releases was often big news (for example, Blur's Country House versus Oasis' Roll With It). And labels carefully arranged their releases for maximum chart impact (single week releases, for example). My record collection contains a number of U.K. CD singles, bought for $9.99-$11.99, mostly over the early to mid nineties. That was a necessary step to complete collections for bands, mostly British, and also useful when U.S. record companies stopped releasing singles.

The rationale for record labels to stop releasing singles was fears they cut into record sales. However, there are several problems with this approach. The albums don't always have the version of the song played on the radio; this is probably most prominent with R&B songs with multiple remixes for different formats. An example from personal experience: the radio station I listened to played the Eiffel 65 remix of Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch, not the album version. Buying the album can lead to disappointment, and not just because the album is filled with B-side-quality songs and one single.

In any case, we now buy songs via downloads, or wait until they appear on compilations like NOW. But I miss the singles, remixes, B-sides, artwork, and liner notes. Fortunately, the bands I'm most interested in buying singles have a dedicated fan base, and will continue to have singles available.

It's the passing of an era. Buy I'm pleasantly surprised that singles sales remained so high in the U.K. for so long.

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