The Album. It's a constant, a stalwart feature of an industry that has transformed almost incomprehensibly in the last decade. Or is it? Has the full-length LP had its time in the sun, destined to be the thing of laptop recycling bins in years to come with only the occasional Steve Wright-presented BBC 4 documentary to remember them by? Well, George Ergatoudis, Radio 1 and 1Extra's Head of Music seems to think the latter. In a tweet in response to Google's purchase of streaming service Songza, he proclaimed that the album is on the verge of extinction, with playlists set to define the future of the music industry.

Needless to say, this sparked a bit of a tizzy in the music world. In a subsequent BBC Newsbeat interview, Ergatoudis elaborated, arguing that in 5 years' time "In terms of where most people are spending their time, it's going to be listening to these playlists - not albums". Obviously there are some legitimate reasons while he might think this, the most obvious being sales. This year's fastest selling album is Ed Sheeran's X, which sold 182,000 copies in the UK in its opening week. Despite this seemingly impressive number, album sales are down 18% from this same time last year, a decline that has been noticeable for the last five years or so. However, Ergatoudis also claims the album's forthcoming extinction is not just sales based but also has grounds in the quality of today's music. He argues people would choose a playlist "rather than listening to a rather mediocre body of work, the album, which sadly is true in most cases". This too, with regards to those artists who occupy an esteemed spot on the Radio 1 A-List, can be seen as a persuasive argument. Just listen to the charts for Christ's sake.

The thing is, Ergatoudis is quite simply wrong. The album cannot and will never die. Let's start with the industry side of things. The music business needs albums, first and foremost. While George acknowledges quite correctly that album sales are down, he fails to recognise that full-length streams are rising. Billboard recently published streaming figures for the US, where the total number of album streams reached 46.9 million in the first half of 2014, nearly double the first six months of 2013's poxy 24.8 million. Despite streaming royalties being notoriously low, it has become a much needed revenue source in an industry pulverized by years of illegal downloading, a phenomenon fortunately now on the decline. Of course figures like these can only continue to rise as CD sales fall, and record labels are slowly but surely evolving to accommodate this. Evidence of this is displayed most recently in the inclusion of streaming figures in the UK album charts, a much-needed step in the right direction to make the weekly Sunday round-up relevant again.

Figures aside, however, there is a convincing argument to suggest that playlists actually encourage album purchases and streams. This has long been the case, with mixtapes being the analogue predecessor of the online playlist and an invaluable resource of music discovery for labels, artists and listeners alike. I spoke to Nigel Adams, Director of Full Time Hobby records, who stressed that "...without putting together mixtapes and swapping them with friends I'm sure I wouldn't be half as obsessed with music as I am." As was the case with cassettes, if your average Joe hears a song they particularly like on the radio or on an online playlist, the chances are they will forward themselves to their other material. The interface of programmes like Spotify make finding an artist's back catalogue far easier than ever before; indeed, the service actively encourages it. And when said Joe stumbles across an artist's home page, how will they go about listening to their wares? Well, handily enough, most have 30-50 minute collections of their works called albums. Engagement in this way facilitates the transition from casual listener to fan, allowing a fuller immersion into an artist's work, the value of which Adams highlights, "[Albums] got me away from the more obvious songs that the band had possibly been coerced into recording as the singles by the record label. It gave me a fuller image of how the band wanted to represent themselves." Once a listener becomes a fan through engaging with an artist's back-catalogue, other areas of the industry can benefit as a result. This is mostly in the form of ticket sales and merchandise; areas becoming increasingly important to the industry as physical sales decline.

From an artistic point of view, the album format is the framework not just for a musician's career but also their self-expression. An album is an intensely personal affair and a concentrated representation of where an artist is at that particular point in their career. An album track may be included within a playlist, but it does not give the listener the full picture in regards to what that artist is about and what they may be trying to say. The opportunities for expression that the album offers an artist are not only limited to the music either. Everything from the track listing, the artwork and the promotion can reflect elements of the musician's artistic direction that just isn't possible through the playlist medium. Adams sees track listing as a crucial factor in the strength of an album. "I've felt that the arc of an album track listing was a really key aspect that couldn't be matched simply by randomly pulling songs together in a playlist - I'd say that sequence of songs on an album was as strong as adding another song to the album when it works properly." The digital age has meant that there no such a thing as a traditional album campaign anymore, with an almost unlimited number of innovative promotional options available. Take Boards of Canada's last record, for example. Warp hid two 12"'s with snippets of the forthcoming album Tomorrow's Harvest in record stores in both New York and London, each record bearing codes that unlocked the band's new website. This, accompanied by a mysterious BoC projection outside London's Rough Trade East sent the independent music world into a furore akin to the second coming of Christ. Would a new Radio 1 playlist meet the same kind of response? I think not.

While most album formats have been decreasing in sales, there is that strange anomaly of the recent rise in vinyl purchases. Of course, those buying the black plastic make up a tiny minority in the consumer behemoth that is the music industry, but if there is anything that the so-called 'vinyl revival' has taught us, it is that those interested in music care about a body of work as an art form. The number of people seeing the LP as something worth keeping is rising and the emotional connection with the album format is what is fuelling it. This desire to listen to music in the premeditated, specific form of an album is alive and kicking and represented not just in vinyl LP sales, but also in the growth of independent record shops as a whole.

Almost as a by-product of the digitization of music culture, the playlist is a wholly temporary entity, lacking the longevity that a truly great album can have. A collection of choice cuts in the form of a playlist is a snapshot of a broader music scene at a very specific time, which of course has its place. What it is not and cannot ever be, however, is timeless. A full-length has the potential to stand the test of time and can sound just as relevant in thirty years as it does today. Playlists cannot. Remember those Now That's What I Call Music chart compilation CDs your aunt would get you for Christmas when you were 12? There is a reason that you never listened to Now 62 again after 63 hit the shelves.

The tweet that started the album vs playlist debate was in response to Google's purchase of the music playlist service Songza, which specialises in curating playlists for particular moods, actions or whatever takes your fancy. Again, there is nothing wrong with this and it is an indisputably great way to discover new music to match how you are feeling. Once again, however, this is only temporary. For example, a curated list of melancholic acoustic numbers is not something you are going to go back to after every big breakup. Something like Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, on the other hand, is. What those in taste making positions such as Ergatoudis' should be promoting is the playlist not as the be-all-and-end-all, but as a tool to discover more from a particular artist in the form of their singles and their albums. The artists need it as a means of expression and the industry needs it to keep the cash flowing. Most importantly though, the fans need it because a computer-generated list cannot define who you are and cannot speak to you on a level that nothing else can. Albums have this ability, and as Adams puts it, "They are a much needed frame of reference that acts as another filter in an age of so much cultural hiss."