LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Can you remember the last CD you bought? I’m not talking an album on iTunes. I mean an actual, physical compact disc. Can’t recall? Ask anyone in Japan this question, and you’ll most likely get an answer without much thought.

After the U.S., Japan is the world’s second-largest market for music. But unlike in America, the CD is still the main source of revenue for record labels there. As CD sales dwindle in most of the world, in Japan they still account for about 85% of total music sales. According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan, this is even more shocking due to the fact that digital sales have dropped from almost $1 billion in 2009 to only $400 million last year.

This drastic change has many of those “in the business” questioning why. When you can download any song ever made with the click of a button, what is it that keeps the Japanese physically going to music stores to pick up the latest album by their favorite artist? Free swag, of course.

The super popular girl group AKB48, for example, has released CDs that included tickets redeemable for access to live events. The biggest fans often buy more than one copy, causing their sales to skyrocket. Many stores give out different kinds of freebies with the release of an album, making it even more seductive for those looking to collect everything they can.

It’s not that the Japanese aren’t keeping their MP3s in the cloud too. But with stunning album artwork, $20 dollar price cap, and bonus gifts, it makes more sense to buy a physical copy. Just like records are slowly becoming popular again in the U.S., it looks like digital music is lacking in the “cool” department on both sides of the world.