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Good things that come in boxes (boxed sets, that is)

Story highlights

  • Holiday season proves CDs, DVDs, even vinyl records aren't dead yet
  • Part of the desire for physical product is fidelity, music exec says
  • "It's almost like a piece of art," he says of a phonograph record
  • Detailed liner notes, intriguing outtakes part of the packaging of many boxed sets

Last year, the Beatles' "Abbey Road" sold 41,000 copies.

On vinyl.

Yes, in 2011 more than 40,000 people bought a new copy of an album originally released 43 years ago in an almost-extinct format that requires technology most people don't own. And they weren't outliers: "Abbey Road" has sold more than 100,000 copies on vinyl since the Beatles' catalog was remastered and rereleased in 2009.

Vinyl is only part of the story; people still buy CDs and DVDs, too, even though songs, TV shows and movies are available online at the click of a button.

Which brings up the question: Why, in our Wi-Fi'ed, flash-drived, direct-to-digital age, does anyone buy a physical product of a recording anymore?

Part of it's the fidelity, points out Tom Cording, vice president of media relations for Sony/Legacy: With audio in particular, some want state-of-the-art sound. Part of it's the security of owning an object: Whether it's on vinyl, CD or DVD, it's there as a backup if your hard drive crashes.

And part of it's simple human fascination.

Look at a phonograph record, Cording says: "It's almost like a piece of art. You want to take it and look at it and pass it around the room," he says. Nowadays, music has become something people put on for background noise while they do eight other things, he adds; an old LP, with Side 1 and Side 2, practically demanded attention.

The same is true for many boxed sets, whether on CD or DVD. At their best, the packaging is careful and often brilliant, complete with detailed liner notes, intriguing outtakes and state-of-the-art technical specs. Even when the product is more basic, such as a few seasons of a TV show, the material is all at your fingertips, ready for a marathon viewing.

The holidays are, of course, high season for such releases. Here's a sampling of what's available.