Some People (i.e. Leonard Cohen Fans) Still Buy CDs, Even Online

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As a tech writer, it is a good thing to remind myself that my habits are alien to most people in America. Not only do I pay for all my music, but I do it via the subscription service, Rdio, not Spotify or Pandora, or I get vinyl.

Meanwhile, out in America, there are people buying CDs. Even when these people go on to the Internet to buy music, they order the CDs and have them delivered. Billboard's latest numbers provide a perfect snapshot of the wide gulf in music purchasing behavior between (presumably) young and old. Fans of Lana Del Rey, whose album debuted at #2, one notch above Leonard Cohen's first studio album in eight years, bought downloadable music or a CD in a store. Cohen's fans were spread across brick-and-mortar retailers, downloads, and Internet CD sales.

Thirty-five percent of Cohen's new album's sales came from physical albums sold via Internet retailers. To compare, only 1% of Del Rey's first-week physical CD sales came from Internet sellers. On the other hand, 74% of Del Rey's sales were downloads, while digital sales represented 30% for Cohen.

I can understand brick-and-mortar purchases; I love a good music store as much as the next nerd. I can understand buying music for download: it's nearly instantaneous and usually a bit cheaper. But that last group, the big green slice of Leonard Cohen's pie. I do not understand them at all. Perhaps they are audiophiles who value the tiny difference between CD-quality and near-CD quality. Or perhaps they have dial-up modems that make downloading music difficult.

Whoever they might be, their consumption preference reminds us to think about the technologies that people actually use, rather than the ones they might use at some point in the future.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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