Wednesday, June 6, 2007

eDistribution observations

A couple of thoughts and observations on internet music distribution.
  • Coolfer and Digital Audio Insider both have discussed the new Paul McCartney album offered through all the usual outlets, plus through eMusic. For the inaugural release on their new music label, Starbucks is releasing Memory Almost Full in a regular and limited edition, where the limited edition includes an extra disc with three additional songs and a half hour of Sir Paul talking about the album. Seeing what outlet has what version is interesting. eMusic only has the regular version. Starbucks' music store only has the regular version. Amazon has both, plus a statement from Sir Paul. Their description of the limited edition says that it includes additional artwork and the complete lyrics. iTunes also has both, and both versions come with a digital booklet (no clue as to whether the booklets are different — there is no sampling of artwork). The banner ad on the iTunes store takes the user to the limited edition version. Amazon matches iTunes price on both versions. In another twist, iTunes UK only has the limited edition.

  • This isn't the first time iTunes has offered multiple versions. Björk's album Volta is also available in two versions. For an extra two dollars, you get a video and a digital booklet.

  • The digital booklet that accompanied the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society's iTunes release of music by Debussy, Stucky, Saariaho, and Dalbavie is a great example of what can be done. The release comes with a 13-page PDF with excellent notes about the artists and composers.

  • I've mentioned the digital booklets, because they are the solution to the single biggest problem I see with digital distribution, especially for classical music. After seeking a copy of Marilyn Nonken's release of Tristan Murail's complete piano music for several months on Amazon, it turned up today on eMusic. Everything would be grand, except that eMusic doesn't include any kind of liner notes. Naxos, the classical music label most often touted as most likely to succeed in the digital era, includes liner notes for all their releases at their web site. This is a super friendly approach that I wish all classical labels would adopt, and doesn't penalize customers for purchasing the digital artifacts rather than the compact disc. The web site British label for the Nonken/Murail release, Metier, has no information but redirects users to a store. Lack of liner notes wouldn't be a problem for some classical releases of better known works (although a number of artists, including Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, and even Glenn Gould can be very entertaining writers), but it's especially unfortunate for new music releases.

It's a positive sign that one of the major labels has finally agreed to provide music to the iTunes store at a better bitrate (and without DRM). Hopefully the music industry will start wooing their customers back, by providing features that they want.

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