So apparently, the music labels don’t really like it when you just buy singles. I’m not sure whether Apple actually cares that much as I was always under the impression that they just keep the iTunes store around as a means to sell iPods. Be that as it may, Apple is about to make a new digital album format, codenamed “Cocktail”, the next must have product for teens and tweens everywhere. (It was confirmed today that Apple’s annual music event will take place on September 9, 2009.)
Apple is working with the four largest record labels to stimulate digital sales of albums by bundling a new interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music downloads, in a move it hopes will change buying trends on its online iTunes store.
“It’s all about re-creating the heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music,” said one executive familiar with the plans.
Apple wants to make bigger purchases more compelling by creating a new type of interactive album material, including photos, lyric sheets and liner notes that allow users to click through to items that they find most interesting. Consumers would be able to play songs directly from the interactive book without clicking back into Apple’s iTunes software, executives said. [Financial Times]
After reading this the first time, my immediate impression was, this is not going to work, this will not to revitalize album sales by any means. I know it’s easy to be a naysayer, but here’s why I reached that initial conclusion: first of all, I think the premise is a bit misguided, the problem isn’t that the people are “just buying singles”, the problem is that people aren’t legally buying music at all anymore. After re-reading the FT article though, it actually sounds like these are not the people Apple and the labels are going after, they seem to have already given up on those
scofflaws individuals who file share exclusively, and now they are shifting their focus to the sector of the public that still buys music, but only cherry picks the songs they like from an artist’s catalog. For these people, a little more pizazz in a digital download package might act as an inducement to “buy an album” as opposed to a single, but I think for most folks, the move towards the iTunes store and an entirely digital content library has: a) made the single so affordable and accessible that people will be hard pressed to go to back to buying albums no matter the new format actually consists of; b) conditioned people to abandon whatever love they had for packaging, liner notes, and everything associated with the physical object and just focus on the music.
OK, so I took a few days off after writing the above paragraph and it occurred to me how I might be wrong, (as I often am when it comes to Apple products), and how Cocktail could potentially save the recorded music industry if they do it the right way. While no one really knows what Cocktail actually is yet, some reports have it as a format that includes “artwork, linear notes, lyrics, and videos”. After hearing that, I balked at the idea of “enhanced liner notes” or “albums with videos”, to me there is not enough added value there to get people to pay extra for an album. But then I got to thinking, what if Cocktail is more than that? What if it is more like an RSS feed that consists of a stream of frequently updated and exclusive content related to the artist and the album you just bought? Sure, buying an album and getting deluxe artwork and maybe a video is great, but what if you get exclusive access to the next video before the rest of the world because you bought the album? I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’d be willing to pay for. It doesn’t have to stop at pre-release videos though, “album purchaser only” concert presales, exclusive artist podcasts, and interactive games are all potential examples of the kind of thing I’d be willing to shell out some of my hard earned dollars for. Essentially, what I am describing is attaching a dedicated music blogger to every new record that comes out and then having that content pushed to your iPhone (or whatever) on a regular basis because you purchased the “enhanced version” of the album. To me there is definitely some value in the type of product I am describing, and in fact, when you think about it, what you’re really purchasing is the access to the premium content with the album is being thrown in much like an added bonus. Come September 9, I guess we’ll see whether they were listening to me or not.