Record companies have been dragged kicking and screaming by consumers (and Apple) into the digital age in the last ten years. And predictions
are that 2010 will mark a tipping point where music purchased digitally via download will account for more than half of all music purchased.
The industry seems to have adjusted to the new reality as revenues from downloads have started to make up for lost CD sales. But, as many have observed, the new reality seems to have marked a return of the early days of the record industry when most music was purchased as singles.
It was an age that the music industry thought they had successfully killed when the CD format made single purchases a rarity. Yes, there was a CD single format but the industry never marketed it heavily, because there was a huge profit incentive in getting someone to pay ten to fifteen bucks for ten tracks even if they were interested in just one.
Now record companies are losing revenue because consumers aren't buying tracks in bulk like that anymore. So Sony, Warner, Universal
have gotten together to form a consortium to create a new digital version of the album.
There isn't a ton of information about what their exact vision for what this new format will look like, but what has been reported
seems to indicate that it will be a kind of multimedia format that will contain digital art, video, lyrics and the songs inside a single file. The format is called CMX
and should be released before the end of the year. One of the problems with this consortium is that it's missing the most important music industry player of all, Apple
Apple is working on its own version of the digital album, code named Cocktail
, that will also be launched by the end of the year. Either way, it'll be interesting to see if Apple or the rest of the music industry can succeed in creating a brand new market where consumers will be compelled to buy music in bulk rather than singles again.
The Beatles' 1967 concept album, "Sgt. Pepper's"
All this brings to mind the origin of the album. The long-play vinyl record or the LP was around for a while but never really amounted to much more than a collection of singles on a single platter. It was always a secondary market to the single business before the mid 1960s when groups like The Beatles
and The Beach Boys
started experimenting with the LP format by creating a collection of songs that would follow a concept or a narrative from beginning to end.
The Beatles actually innovated quite a bit beyond that. They were the first group to take control of the album cover and use it to display concept art rather than just a portrait of the band. The Beatles took the boring old LP and made it their canvas -- transforming the record industry by raising album sales to levels previously enjoyed by singles. The lesson here is that the market for new formats are created by the content, not the format.
Curiously, the Beatles have never been officially released online. This is amazing if you think about it. Ten years into the digital revolution in music and one of the biggest-selling groups of all time have yet to release its back catalog in digital format.
All this brings me to a theory: Apple has an event scheduled
for next month. It's on Wednesday, September 9th. It's being billed as an event that will announce something to do with the iPod. Common speculation is that Apple will release a new iPod Touch with a built in camera
. I'd say that was a safe bet. Typically the iPod events mean the announcement of a new version of iTunes. The next full version will be iTunes 9.
But here is my personal theory ... is it possible that Apple will also announce the first digital release of the Beatles catalog and simultaneously introduce their version of the digital album? Think about it, will the group that made the LP record into a popular artistic format be the same group to introduce a the LP of the digital age? Add to this the date for the event, September 9, 2009 or 9/9/09 ... number 9 ... number 9 ... number 9 ... iTunes 9 ...