We catalogue enthusiasts are an odd bunch. The music industry at large is horrified about consumers not buying as much physical music as they used to – but a lot of reissue buyers, interested in the preservation of our collections and their sound quality, are still scouring record stores for purchases. Labels releasing new music have to recontextualize what constitutes “strong sales” now that albums rarely pass 250,000 copies in their first week – but our favorite reissues are lucky to have 10,000 copies available sometimes.
Indeed, a lot of us are happily playing by the old rules. But let’s be honest: that’s not always going to be the case. Someday reissue buyers (God willing) will be savvy Internet purchasers. The market may have shifted in a way that what you and I call a box set might be something different altogether. This of course begs the question: what’s next?
When the iTunes LP was announced last year, I had high hopes that it might offer some glimmer of promise in the eventual fusion of reissues to technology. Nearly five months on, I’m sad to report that I was so wrong. On paper, the iTunes LP – a form of interactive album art meant to augment the experience of listening to the music (and possibly other content bundled in as well) – sounded like a neat, immersive experience, and one that would be fun for new and old music fans alike.
The actual result was kind of boring – especially for catalogue titles. To date, only a few catalogue iTunes LPs have been released. There was one for The Doors’ first album, one for The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, another for Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan, a version of So by Peter Gabriel and a port of the deluxe Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! box The Rolling Stones put out last year. That’s right – with just five titles shall we gauge the iTunes LP.
Then, the content is roughly the same as what fans have probably already bought on disc. The Stones box is the same thing, only digital. Same with American Beauty. Highway 61 Revisited is the album with some of the tracks from The Bootleg Series tacked on. The Doors is the same plus one promo video. The only one with a modicum of effort would be So – and even then, it’s missing vault content (the non-LP B-sides are included, but the single and dance mixes would have been nice – and most but not all of the accompanying music videos are packed in). With that kind of double-dipping, the expanded album art is not going to entice anybody.
So the search goes on. Rhino recently started offering lossless downloads on their site, but then you have to draw the line between content and quality on their own. Are consumers really ready to fill their terabyte hard drives with lossless files? Probably not. So there’s got to be some other answer.
I once toyed with the idea of a portal-type site for a particular album. Let’s say you wanted to listen to Born in the U.S.A. in a nice expanded way. You’d go to whatever the Web portal would be. Then you could stream all the songs from the album, single mixes and B-sides, other vault content, music videos, information about the album – whatever. And the content would be added gradually (the ideal iTunes LP strives for), rather than dumped online all at once. Get people excited, the artists and labels included. And then, at the end of the day, when the project is winding down, make it available for the guys who want physical product. It might be a risk – a costly one at that – but it might be worth it.
Or maybe there’s some other solution. Anybody got any good ideas? Let’s hear them, before it’s too late!