Earl Vickers, Principal Audio Algorithm Engineer at STMicroelectronics, put together this excellent presentation on the Loudness War for the 129th AES Convention in San Francisco.
The presentation discusses the audible effects of hypercompression and looks at the loudness war in terms of game theory. After presenting evidence questioning the idea that louder recordings sell better, Vickers suggests some possible ways to de-escalate the loudness war.
Along the way, Vickers makes some interesting points:
Loudness is not correlated with sales figures;
Loudness has almost no affect on listener’s preferences when comparing different songs;
Listeners tend to dislike the side-effects of hyper-compression, and prefer more dynamic music; and
Content trumps loudness, especially on the radio
The most mind-boggling fact that Vickers brings up, though, is that today's heavily compressed recordings actually have lower dynamic range than recordings made on Edison Cylinders a century ago.
Vickers has additional information and audio demos at his site.