First there was Napster, followed swiftly by the likes of iTunes and Spotify and now all music seems virtual or digital. But according to new research, music buyers still prefer to purchase their tunes in physical format – CDs, vinyl records and even cassettes – rather than download them.
Research from ICM has revealed that 57 percent of people in the U.K. bought a CD within the last year while 39 percent made an MP3 download. Meanwhile both vinyl and cassette purchases are on the rise, with 10 percent buying vinyl in the last month (double the figure from last year's survey) and 5 percent purchasing a cassette.
Online does lead the way in terms of where people get their music, with 70 percent of people buying on the web. In the last month, 22 percent of people bought off Amazon while 11 percent chose iTunes, where the average track cost 99 pence ($1.66).
According to the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), the average CD album cost £7.85 ($13.20). The pricing of vinyl records and cassettes vary, with an ERA spokesman informing CNBC that many independent shops may not report information regarding pricing and therefore any figure regarding cassette and vinyl sales may not be fully accurate. A quick look at a music website showed a vinyl album can range between £12 and £20, while a cassette album can be as cheap as £5.
Maurice Fyles, ICM's research director, said in a note:"Although we can store our music on a PC or in the Cloud, a large proportion of music buyers continue to purchase physical formats with MP3 files as an add-on. Perhaps it's a reaction to the digital world, but physical formats that we might have thought were relegated to history are being revived as fans and collectors opt for limited editions and promotional copies of their favourite music across a range of formats."
The U.K. survey was conducted online between 11 and 15 April and asked 2030 music customers.
John Patterson, who buys the new vinyl at Flashback, a record shop with two locations in London, said that services like Spotify helped to increase listenership for new music and did not necessarily damage the physical purchase of CDs, vinyl and cassettes.
"I do believe that when people come to buy something, they would rather buy a physical product rather than just a download. They want the art work and they want something they can hold," Patterson told CNBC.
"I believe that having a record is never going to go out of fashion because it was the first mass media produced for music. It's never going to die, like the written word. If someone loves a book they want to have it on their shelf. People want to show off their cultural references and influences in their home. If they first heard a song online or as a digital download, eventually they want to be able to show off that they own it."
Regarding vinyl growth, which is also driven by 18 to 24-year-olds, ICM said that its resurgence was down to sound quality, sleeve artwork and collecting.
Steve Snooks, a buyer at BM Soho, London's longest-running independent dance music record store, argued that "Some people prefer the quality of certain formats (vinyl over MP3s) but this will change once higher-quality digital files are the norm on online outlets like iTunes."
It does seem that people are buying CDs, vinyl and cassettes for the novelty/collectible value. According to ICM, one in six people bought music in a physical format to keep and then did not listen to in the last three months. 26 percent 18 to 24-year-olds bought music they did not plan to play and one in ten from this age group bought a tape in the last month.
Fyles said, "There's definitely a novelty value with cassettes at the moment – particularly as we suspect a high proportion of them are collectibles sitting on a shelf and never played."
Flashback's Patterson said that the cassette was popular because it was cheap, but he was not sure its rising popularity rise would be as consistent as that of vinyl.
"It's kind of cool at the moment but I don't know how long the cassette will last," he said. "It will probably come in and out of fashion. The main reason why the cassette is popular at the moment is because bands can make them very easily by themselves, but I don't know if there is going to be mass-produced tapes again."