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Downloads driving CD singles out of the market

Mercury Records, the home of Arcade Fire and U2, has announced it will from now on release CD singles only in 'exceptional' circumstances.

It's happened. The era of the CD single, the end of which has for so long been predicted by pessimistic future-looking types citing the expansion of iTunes et al, finally looks as though it might be drawing to a close.

Mercury Records, home to Arcade Fire, U2, Elton John and, er, the Pop Idol loser Darius Danesh, has announced that from now it will rely almost solely on downloads, consigning its CD singles to the dustbin.

Vinyl singles will go the same way, in spite of a collectors' market, with seven-inch sales dropping 85 per cent since 2006 in the UK to 152,000 last year, according to the Official Charts Company.

For Mercury Records, it just wasn't financially viable. Last year the label reportedly lost money on its physical singles.

According to figures quoted by a spokesman for the company, physical sales now account for only around 1 per cent of chart sales. Meanwhile, single sales have actually grown since 2006, from 66.7m to 161.8m, although those figures include all individually downloaded tracks. Earlier this month, it was announced that Lady Gaga had become the first artist to pass the 20 million download sales mark.

But there is a smidgen of hope for those of us who prefer to own physical cases and artwork rather than have it all stored on an instantly erasable USB stick.

As Arts & Life reported a few weeks ago, specialist companies such as Modo and Artists in Residence have cornered the market in bespoke final editions, while even Mercury says it will produce occasional vinyl records and CDs in "exceptional" circumstances - for example, the release of a charity single.

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