Some discouraging numbers on the economics of digital music have generated a good online discussion about the future of business models.

The numbers from the chart came from a January 2010 post at The Cynical Musician blog that claims "the amounts earned from creative output delivered through the Net verge on the laughable."

Here's a quick overview: To generate revenue equal to the $1,160 per month (slightly over the U.S. Federal poverty line), an independent artist needs: 1,813 downloads per month at iTunes; 3,392 downloads per month at eMusic; 127,473 streams per month at Rhapsody; or 7,733,333 plays per month at Last.fm. Paradoxically, it says, CD sales are "still our best bet" for generating revenue.

Not everybody thinks these numbers endorse selling CD and downloads. In his Twitter feed, consultant and speaker Gerd Leonhard said the data confirmed his argument that "selling copies is toast." As he explained in a post at TechDirt, "in our open, mobile, social and digitally networked economy, content publishers need to offer their goods in a way that no longer centers on the distribution of units (digital or physical) as the key revenue factor." As an example, Leonhard lays out a scenario in which he pays for access to a premium package that provides him access to his favorite opera or "that Blue Note Jazz Club concert from last night."

Unfortunately, Leonhard's advice doesn't jibe with the reality of today. The Cynical Musician's numbers actually confirm something I've written before: artists still have plenty of incentive to sell copies of music.

1. The economics of streaming music encourage artists to embrace, not bypass, the opportunity to sell copies of music. Whether scarce CDs and or easily duplicated digital downloads, copies are still - and by far - the best way to monetize a fan's interest in your music. Today, allowing a fan to experience music via an access-based service means lost revenue. (Can you imagine hearing an artist say to a fan after a concert, "Thanks for coming tonight. I hope you'll go home and create a Pandora channel that will stream my music a few times an hour"? No. The artist will say, "I've got CDs for sale. I'd be happy to autograph one if you'd like to buy it.") The one-to-one relationship allowed by Internet all but demands the artist do more to take advantage of that relationship. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, selling copies of recorded music is the best way to monetize that relationship. Those copies may be bundled with concert tickets, VIP access or other items or services. Regardless, artists should continue to focus on selling copies.

2. Tomorrow isn't here yet. Access models -based on subscription or network fees - may very well be a dominant model some day. But that day is far in the future. Until then, such models must be negotiated, built and marketed to consumers. We're not even close to that model appearing on the marketplace. So, continue to think about the direction the industry needs to take, but realize we are still, and will be for many years, in mostly a purchase economy.

3. While considered by some forward-thinkers as a relic, purchased music is still in demand because it is so practical. Don't let people convince you that consumers have shifted to streaming because they see no value in ownership. There is a multi-billion-dollar global download market that says otherwise. And while it is true download growth is slowing and a small portion of consumers have embraced more than Internet radio, we are not yet at the next step in the evolution of music formats. Access-based services do not yet provide an attractive combination of storage, synchronization and playback on multiple devices.

4. There is ample evidence that music consumers still like to purchase CDs. A 2009 survey by Music Ally and The Leading Question found that 73% of those interviewed were happier when buying CDs than downloading, and over half reported listening to CDs every day. The Country Music Association's study of over 7,000 consumers, released in March 2009, found 65% of country fans aged 18 to 54 are CD-dominant. A 2008 Pew Internet study found 82% of respondents were still buying all or most of their music in the CD format. As the numbers indicate, many consumers still want to buy CDs. If your fans want a CD, sell them a CD.

As time passes, recorded music will definitely become more of a supplement to other experiences. For example, a download of Tom Petty's new album, "Mojo," is currently being bundled with the purchase of a concert ticket. That's a good way to enhance the value of the ticket and get music into the hands of some fans. But that doesn't mean nobody is going to buy a copy of the album when it's released. Expect to see typical Petty sales numbers when "Mojo" is released next month.

In the meantime, consumers who want to make a connection with an artist are still content to pay for recorded music. Artists, don't overthink the fine points, and don't hold out for the access models of tomorrow. Just find creative ways to sell copies of your music.