In an effort to boost high margin digital music sales, and perhaps convince the few remaining hipsters¹ out there to migrate over to iTunes, Apple is working with the big 4 record companies to establish downloadable and interactive booklets that would be bundled with full album purchases on iTunes. According to a report in the Financial Times, the project is codenamed “cocktail” and is expected to launch sometime this September.
Online music sales continue to erode the frequency of CD purchases at brick and mortar stores, but with many of those online purchases being made one 99-cent song at a time, record labels have for some time now been looking for ways to encourage more full-length album downloads in an attempt to more effectively monetize online music sales. Their most recent initiative, of course, was getting Apple to finally relent on its 99-cent price point with the introduction of variable pricing and $1.29 singles.
But album sales are naturally more of a money maker than are singles, and the latest initiative between Apple and the record labels is squarely aimed at increasing album sales by including many of the perks that CD lovers enjoy when purchasing a hardcopy disc, such as liner notes, video clips, and photographs of the artist.
According to an executive cited by the Times, “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.”
I certainly can’t argue with that. Music purchasing used to be more of a communal and/or involved event. Whereas now you can casually purchase a song on iTunes at a moment’s notice, and then listen to it whenever you feel like it, there used to be a time when you ran home from the record store, popped in a CD as quick as your muscles could manage, and listened to an entire album as you devoured the liner notes for any kind of info and photos you could find. It used to be a big deal, among friends, to be the first in the group to get a hot new CD, and it was common for buddies to hang out together and listen to new tunes while shootin the shit. In that regard, the excitement of purchasing new music has somewhat subsided with the rise of iTunes. The ease of business model of iTunes has transformed the act of purchasing music into a common and ordinary event.
iTunes, of course, brings with it a number of its own advantages, but I merely point out the above to illustrate that there is something to be said, and gained, for bringing back part of the mystique and excitement of music purchasing that has perhaps been missing over the past few years.
While it remains unclear what an interactive album will exactly look like, one executive noted that consumers will “be able to play songs directly from the interactive book without clicking back into Apple’s iTunes software.” And if these features are made available for viewing on the iPhone and iPod Touch, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t be, albums bundled with interactive content could potentially be a huge deal.
Interestingly, a number of musical artists have been quite successful at selling iPhone apps that offer the same type of content Apple is reportedly planning to offer in the near future. That being the case, there is already a model for success and a high-level of interest for such features, and while it may not be the save-all to resuscitate dwindling album sales, it certainly will be a welcome addition for music lovers who can finally combine the best features of online and in-store music purchases.
¹ If you happen to be curious, the photo above is of the immensely talented indie singer Bright Eyes a.k.a Connor Oberst. I have no idea what his music purchasing habits are actually like, I just thought his photo went well with the story, and it also gave me a chance to tell ya’ll to go download his songs!