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CDs, MiniDiscs still reign over MP3s

A new survey shows that consumers continue to spend their money on "traditional" digital music players.

It should be no surprise that digital music players were all the rage in 1999. But the best sellers were still the old-school digital products such as CD and MiniDisc players, according to a new survey.

Portable digital-music players capable of playing music stored in the controversial MP3 file format made significant strides in 1999, according to the study of retail sales by market research firm NPD Intelect. But MP3s were still dwarfed by sales of "traditional" digital music products that play CDs or MiniDiscs.

The MiniDisc is a small disc that can be recorded over again and again. MiniDisc is supported primarily by Sony, which markets portable players, home audio products, and car stereos in the format.

However, just because three competing formats are popular does not necessarily mean a market shake-up is in the works.

"There is no reason why three digital formats can't coexist at the same time," Jim Hirschberg, an analyst with NPD Intelect, said in a statement. "Back in the 1970s, three analog formats (open reel, cassette and 8-track tape) all existed at the same time before (the) cassette eventually won out. We expect to see several digital formats find their own audiences."

Two-thirds of the portable music players sold through retail stores last year were digital products, the survey found. Analog devices--portable cassette players and radios--accounted for the remaining third of the market last year, down from 44 percent the previous year.

Although portable radio sales were down 7 percent, sales of portable cassette players like the Sony Walkman were down a whopping 30 percent.

On the flip side, sales of digital products were up 11 percent, with portable CD players the fastest-growing segment. Sales of CD players grew 41 percent, followed by MiniDisc players, which were up 37 percent.

The PC market's rapid embrace of rewritable CD technology has trickled into the consumer audio market as well, the survey found. CD recorders made up more than 30 percent of digital recording sales, trailing MiniDisc recorders, which had 40 percent of the market.