New Album Format Is Not The Answer To Music Industry Woes

July 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Words From The Genius

Today, news reports surfaced about a tablet-based iPod that will work with a rumored new album format that both Apple and the major labels are trying to create. Mathew Garrahan of the Financial Times writes,

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. 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. “It’s not just a bunch of PDFs,” said one executive. “There’s real engagement with the ancillary stuff.”

While theoretically this new album format sounds exciting, I think to a large extent Apple may be late on this whole idea. The thought of having a wiki-based album format- embeddable links and interactive content bundled in a file- just seems archaic in light of users trending towards accessing music through streaming services. Plus there’s the new iPod itself,

The new touch-sensitive device Apple is working on will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally. It will connect to the internet like the iPod Touch – probably without phone capability but with access to Apple’s online stores .

It sounds like people who already have albums in digital format will have to repurchase them, and also purchase a new device to access the content on them. It’s pretty difficult getting people to part with money right now, particularly for frivolous things like music devices and for music itself, which they can access for free via the aforelinked streaming services. These services are available as apps for phones, and people aren’t ditching those any time soon.

Think about it, Apple executives want people to engage with content, but the reality is, the content is available already. It’s on Myspace pages, Youtube, blogs, twitter, and so on. It’s in the cloud. Apple’s trying to sell a file-based service when it’s becoming more clear by the day that people don’t want to own anything. Hard drives break, they get full, devices get old, and from a dollar to dollar standpoint, they just don’t make much sense.

From the music industry’s standpoint, there’s more money to be made when people purchase an album for $10 than a single for $1, which is why it was never crazy about iTunes in the first place. The music industry phased out the single in the mid to late 90s because by not giving people an alternative to get the song they wanted, they had to buy an entire album. They raked in the dough as a result. People having the choice to spend $1 over $15 for a CD has been driving a stake through the industry’s heart for five years now.

So of course they’d love to entice people to get back into the album format. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s an antiquated format that doesn’t work within the context of the way people consume media in modern times. It’s not going to work in the future either. It’s the same reason why we read articles in RSS readers and via Twitter now. We just want the aggregation, we want to create our own playlists. Give us the record we like, and save the album for someone who really cares.

Which is another point altogether. Some people really do care. Just not everyone. A select few, die hard fans. And maybe this new iPod will work for them, that rare bunch that wants to enjoy an entire hour of music from the same artist, and then also wants to jump into all sorts of exclusive goodies from them.

But remember, the music industry tried to sell the bloated CD before as well. In the late 90s they packaged CDs with extra content, and then even as recently as a few years ago, you were seeing deluxe CD/DVD packages hitting the shelves, filled with all sorts of extra stuff- pictures, wallpapers, ringtones… etc. Fact of the matter is, only the die hards bought this stuff. The rest of the people passed.

  • Brooke Fraser

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8 Responses to “New Album Format Is Not The Answer To Music Industry Woes”
  1. Silva says:

    Most people are not gonna go back to buying whole albums. They should be happy people are choosing to pay for one song at all. The fact is that albums were never, generally speaking, that good from start to finish. It’s just that in the pre-Napster days, you had to buy the whole thing. The genie is out of the bottle now. There are a few (very few) artists whose whole album I will buy, and if I want the liner notes and pictures and all that I can just buy the CD and rip the album to itunes. Why pay the same for a digital album when you can get a physical copy and the digital songs?

  2. “Fact of the matter is, only the die hards bought this stuff. The rest of the people passed.”

    would you not say that in the digital world, the long tail world, that is a much more feasible model than with the physical product? Even if only 5K people buy this new content of the 1M, that’d be just fine. Just of like found money, no?

  3. My only probably with your theory is that alot of new artist need to concentrate on their die hard fans instead of thinking they are going to be able to attract large audiences like well established artists who have been in the music game for 10-15 years. This goes into the build your own tribe theory from Seth Godin which I think is right on point.

    Some artists are never going to reach millions but having a solid 100,000 thousands fans who will buy anything from you is a great alternative.

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