I have no Idea how many LP records I have. I know that, measuring them linearly – by the length of all of the albums when stored with them standing on end, rather than piled one on top of another – I have something like fifteen feet of them, but I don’t know how many that might amount to. I also have around 600 hundred CDs and, although they don't really count as music, something over 100 DVDs and 200 video cassettes.
What I do know -- judging from the pictures I've seen of large rooms with all of their walls lined eight feet high with LPs and their floors covered with boxes of them, and from the words of people that I trust, that they have thousands or even tens of thousands of CDs and other recorded media -- is that whatever number of any of those things that I might have is, quite seriously, as nothing when compared with the media libraries of serious collectors.
The fact of it, though, is that I'm not a serious collector. I don't, like some people I know, buy records (or tapes or CDs) just because they're rare, hard to come by, or are likely to appreciate in value. Music to me is like any other of the artforms that I buy and enjoy: Its value on resale simply doesn't matter because I'm never going to re-sell it! I buy music because I enjoy it or, if it's an unknown work or a new recording that I've never heard by an artist or composer that I know I like, I may buy it just in anticipation of the pleasure that, based on past performance, I expect it to bring me.
Needless to say, though, that doesn't always work out. Sometimes even the very best artist, group, or composer can produce a work that's, either musically or in just in that one particular performance, below the standard that I've come to expect. And sometimes, even though others may consider the music or the performance (or even both) to be a masterpiece or an artistic treasure, I simply, for whatever reason, don't like it. Ah well, de gustibus non disputandum est. ("In matters of taste, there can be no disputes") And even if the "gustibus" is just great, there are still altogether too many recordings out there that were poorly done, poorly, mastered, or just plain noisy or distorted, and I wind up being stuck-with lots of things that I'll never play; will never sell; and will never (heavens forbid) just give away or throw away.
And that’s where, all of a sudden, the idea of downloads and/or streaming music starts to become appealing to me: It's great for sorting the good from the not-so-good, without having to either wait to hear it on the radio, (which could take forever or might never happen at all); find a friend who has a copy that I can listen to; or pay the full price of an album in order to find out if it was worth buying.
Even for video, though, (as witness the number of VCR cassettes and DVDs I own), I still prefer to have "hard" – rather than software – copies of the things that I like and want to keep. Yes, of course I have a DVR, and of course I do record things off cable, either to "time shift" them for more convenient viewing or just to "audition" a program or a movie that I want to see but am not sure I'll want to keep. Once I've seen it, I'll make my decision, and if it's something that I want to add to my permanent library, I'll always either buy it or burn a hard copy and, in either case, I'll erase the DVR recording so that I'll always have plenty of room left on my DVR for other new stuff that I want to check out.
I seem to be in the minority, though, in my attitude toward the "soft" media: As I've been hearing for at least the last couple of years, the market for hard copies of practically anything, either music or video, seems to be on the decline, and most people seem to be coming to prefer soft copies to hard ones.
Where portability is the goal or a lack of physical storage space is a problem, I can certainly understand that: All fifteen feet of my LPs could be converted to digital and they and all of my other music and video could, if I wished, be stored in far less space than they take now – possibly even something very tiny but with VAST memory reserves. That's what the modern majority seems to be doing and, frankly, whether it's causing the huge upsurge in interest in headphone listening; is the result of it; or is completely unrelated I can't even guess.
Personally, I feel no need to carry my music or my movies around with me. Radio is everywhere if I want to listen to it, and – if it's a good station – can even introduce me to new things. Even television is sufficiently ubiquitous that if I have the time or the interest to watch it, there's almost always a set available to me, and programming – even when I'm out of town or in a hotel in another country – that I want to watch. For other people, though, the soft media do seem to satisfy a need, and they seem to be turning to them in droves.
For collectors, I suspect that the soft media might be a little too short on the kind of "hands-on" activity, physical presence, or "Look-at-my-wall-of-stuff!" show-off factor they find satisfying. Also, the soft media certainly don't seem likely to appreciate in value the way collectors who view their collection as an investment might wish. For dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles, too, there may always remain the belief – well-founded or not – that the hard media, records, tapes, and even CDs, sound just that last little bit better and, if only for that reason, they may continue to be preferred.
As for me, other than for auditioning new finds or archiving old ones, both the hard and soft media are just fine. Either one will allow me (and maybe even a good friend or two) to sit back, close our eyes, and...
Enjoy the music!