Cyberclinic: If I can choose the tracks I like, why buy albums?

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The Independent Tech

In last Wednesday's Extra we looked at the way that audio technology has supposedly compromised the listening experience. But reader Andrew Wimble made a point that our feature didn't address: "For a long time after I got my iPod it was switched to random play, so I never listened to whole albums."

Ever since CD players included a shuffle function, our listening habits have become more fragmented; today, MP3 players make it easy for us to skip tracks we don't like and, thanks to iTunes and illegal downloads, we're given little incentive even to acquire those tracks in the first place.

The debate over whether this is a good thing is split between purists and casual listeners. Whenever the words "death of the album" appear, you inevitably hear whoops of delight from people such as Chris, who said on our blog: "Perversely, the only albums that I listen to in one go are mix CDs."

Consumers have complained for years about having to fork out more than £10 for an album which "has only three decent tunes on it"; these people need complain no longer. Musicians, meanwhile, are appalled that this deprives them of the opportunity to explore their creative impulses. The vast majority of consumers say: "Well, we've never enjoyed coughing up for your creative impulses, we prefer hit singles." As a blog at futureofthebook. org puts it: "While a generation of shufflers may not have much respect for the integrity of albums... most albums don't have all that much integrity to begin with."

The band Ash announced their latest album would be their last – not because they're splitting up, but because they're resigned to the fact that listening habits have changed. Whether bands can make money out of drip-feeding the public individual tracks (remembering that singles have, for a long time, merely been loss-leading adverts for money-spinning albums) will, no doubt, provide another headache for the music business.

Diagnosis required

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