In 2007, the Northern Irish rock band Ash announced it was giving up the album format, which it called “contrived” and “outdated,” and instead decided to release only singles. Last year, it started to release a new digital track every two weeks. Called the A-Z Series, it runs from October 2009 to September 2010 and fans can buy a subscription to the series at the band’s web store.

But, there are three key problems with a shift toward singles. First, it’s currently difficult – some would say impossible – for anybody to make money from selling single tracks. Second, it’s clear many artists still want to release albums. To them, it’s a format with artistic merit. Third, and least obvious, is that today’s digital service providers are not geared toward a lengthy series of single-track releases. They’re built for albums. (In fact, not much has changed since I wrote about this in July 2007. People thought the album was a relic three years ago but most of the industry’s infrastructure or attitude wasn’t geared toward anything but albums.)

So, how does a band such as Ash organize a series of self-released songs with bi-weekly release dates? By grouping them together as one, big album with branded artwork. At Spotify, the collected singles are bundled together as “A-Z Vol. 1.” The bundle is under the album section of Ash’s discography along with its other album releases. At Amazon.co.uk’s MP3 store, the same collection of songs are also available as “A-Z Vol. 1.”

While they can sell single tracks through their web sites, artists will find digital service providers are still very album-oriented. Regardless of its desire to ditch the album format, a band needs to organize its songs in a way that works with these services.

Spotify lists an artist’s discography with albums on top, thus giving them a higher profile than singles and compilations. Amazon sells individual tracks, but its daily specials, on-sale specials and editorial are centered around the album format. eMusic is completely oriented toward the album, which suits its clientele. iTunes sells more individual tracks than albums, but albums take center stage at its music store. Even so, it is more single track-oriented that most services.

The album isn’t the favored format everywhere. Thumbplay mobile app gives more emphasis to singles than some of its peers. At dance music download store Beatport, single tracks dominate. On the video side, YouTube and Vevo are perfect examples of platforms with no ties to the album format.

People may build playlists using individual tracks, and they may download tracks by the billions, but the album continues to influence the way people discover, purchase and experience music.