Rolling Stone has this article on how this fall's big CD releases didn't boost overall CD sales. Kanye West's Late Registration sold a ton, but titles by Ashlee Simpson and Destiny's Child didn't sell as much as expected. On the flipside, downloading is way up. How all this translates to me is this: CD sales will continue to decline but CDs themselves won't become extinct.
I still buy plenty of CDs every year. New records by Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, My Morning Jacket, The Go! Team, Foo Fighters and others have been added to my library this year. I don't know if I buy as much or less, but I also buy a number of older releases, including reissues and albums that I never got around to buying. I like a wide variety of rock music and I doubt that I will buy fewer CDs in the upcoming years.
Even with all my CDs, I have become a big advocate of iTunes too. I enjoy building up my digital library with my favorite songs so I can have them in one convenient spot. However, music through computer speakers is still not the best way to hear music (that honor belongs to my den's stereo and in my car's stereo). Even at a cranked level, tiny little speakers can only hold so much.
iTunes has solved a dilemma that has plagued music listeners for years: you don't have to buy a whole album for just one or two songs. No more wasting $14 on something you can get for $3.19 (or free if you get it via a peer-to-peer network). While there are bands/artists that I want to hear at least one whole album from, there are plenty others that I just want a few songs from. It's purely instinctive for me: there are sounds that I want to hear a dozen or more songs in that style and then there are sounds that I want to only hear a few songs in that style. Case in point, I wanted to have the whole Go! Team album but I only wanted to have Public Image Ltd.'s "Rise" and "Public Image" in lieu of an album.
Since the ways of how people obtain music is so diverse, I doubt that CDs will go the way of the 8-track tape. Music is still at its best-sounding on CD and I haven't heard of any up-and-coming sound technology that will change that. Plus, as long as computers have CD drives (not just for music, but for software and games), CDs will be in demand.
For now and the foreseeable future, whenever I go into a large retail chain like Best Buy to buy a CD on sale, I'll have to wade my way through the endless racks of DVDs, video games and cell phones to get to my beloved CDs. Whenever I want to find a new reissue of an older album or a used copy of some record that I meant to buy three years ago, I pay a visit to my locally-owned record store. I like the interaction of me as a curious person roaming from rack to rack more than typing in an artist's name to an Amazon search engine. The immediacy of holding a CD is way more appealing than just looking at a small .JPG, a price and some customer reviews.
Labels can moan about how much they're losing in CD sales every year from here on out. For me the music fan, I enjoy the fact that I have way more options now than when I first started buying music. Music's popularity and need in our lives is not going anywhere. Where exactly it's going isn't clear right now.