With the iTunes Store, Apple has done perhaps more than about any other company to help propel the proliferation of (legal) music downloads. And in doing so, Apple has also helped hammer the nail in the coffin of traditional CD sales, thanks to Apple’s simple distribution method and way for users to quickly find and download just the songs they are interested in. Which makes a story in the The Financial Times, reporting that Apple is joining forces with the major record labels to restore the album format, all the more interesting.
According to the article, Apple and the four major labels are working to stimulate album download sales “by bundling a new interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music downloads,” including photos, lyrics, and video clips.
The project—which the Financial Times story attributes to “four people familiar with the situation”—is supposedly called ‘Cocktail.’ (Perhaps that’s what the story’s authors plied their sources with to get the information.)
The story suggests a September 2009 launch for the project (and, somewhat randomly, maybe alongside the oft-rumored tablet device that AppleInsider predicted only a few days earlier for an early 2010 launch). Of course, this information comes from the same people who reported that Apple was planning a subscription-based music service, which has yet to see the light of day, so take it with as much salt as you can stomach.
The real question is, would this gimmick actually work? Apple already restricts some song sales to album-only purchases (usually based on the songs’ lengths) and offers digital liner notes with certain albums as well as album-only exclusive content. That obviously hasn’t made people jump back on the album bandwagon.
Are people not buying complete albums because they don’t have enough incentive to do so, or because much of what makes up an ‘album’ these days is mostly filler to pad the few good songs a band is able to come up with meet its contractual obligations to the same labels that are purportedly working with Apple?
Sure, it would be nice to have lyrics for songs embedded with each track (great for winning bar bets over mondegreens such as “the girl with colitis goes by”), but part of the joy of buying CDs—and records or even cassettes before them—is the tactile delight of thumbing through liner notes after sliding them out of a jewel case. I’m not sure that adding more stuff to a download will really make a huge difference.
I’d even go so far as to say that the only real way to spur album downloads is to charge less for them. What do you think?