Last year around this time, I wrote a short post about the Deutsche Grammophon web store. For their one-year anniversary, the store has upgraded several features, and gotten a new look, showing a continuing commitment to a superior download experience.
The feature that probably excites the DGG marketers the most is an album cover browse feature. Similar to iTunes' cover flow view, the album covers are displayed at the top of the page and scrollable with a mouse wheel. It's a nice feature if your computer has the appropriate hardware and processing power, but for old laptops with touchpads, they still provide an album list view as well. And, like iTunes, some covers are missing, typically on the older releases. Nevertheless, it's a slick enhancement. Another new feature is the ability to stream a release for a week for a fraction of the cost of the album, which DGG will include toward the whole album price if a user decides to purchase the album, either download or physical release.
One of the common complaints from audiophiles about download releases is inferior sound quality. DGG addresses this complaint by making some of its releases available in lossless FLAC, at a slight premium. For the moment, this only applies to fifty releases, mostly classic albums with a heavy selection of their download-only live releases. It also applies only to entire albums, although users can still download individual tracks or multi-movement works as 320 kbps mp3s. There aren't any standards yet on downloads for better than CD quality (AFAIK, only Trent Reznor has taken this path on the recent Nine Inch Nails album The Slip), so for the time being, this is as good as it gets.
For me, the most positive aspect of the enhanced web store is the presence of some formerly out-of-print releases, which was one of my issues the last time I wrote about the DGG web store. Although my example from last year, Luigi Nono's Y entonces comprendio, is still unavailable, there are some signs that the archives are opening. Some old LaSalle Quartet pieces (the Ardittis of the 1970s), Mauricio Kagel's Exotica, the Kontarsky brothers' Bartok and Stravinsky album, are all now available as download-only, 320 kbps mp3s. The out-of-print releases aren't only the 20th century pieces, but extend to many of the classic performances of standard repertoire and the wonderful DGG Archiv releases of early music. I would have liked to see the original album notes included, even if they are simple text or html files (the Naxos approach), but this is a great first step.
Recent years have been tough for the record industry, but the enhanced DGG web shop gives me some signs of hope. The simple fact that the storefront has been upgraded shows a continuing commitment to a future where downloads form a greater part of the revenue stream. FLAC and streaming show a flexibility with regard to user's differing requirements, and I imagine the DGG executives will be watching to see which options positively impact the bottom line. The download-only releases of out-of-print albums is an investment in the long tail, a feature that only a company with deep archives can provide (and DGG was founded in 1890, so their sound archives should be extensive). Most importantly, if their efforts are successful, one can only hope their sister labels at Universal (especially ECM, which Universal distributes) start high-quality download shops, complete with all of the cover art and liner notes.