Music industry wants 'iTablet' to follow Spotify

Over at trade mag Music Week, News Editor Ben Cardew reminds us that "digital album sales are increasing quite swiftly anyway and there are frantic industry efforts to push this further, for the very obvious reason that you make more money out of albums than individual tracks.

"A lot of the new features the FT report was talking about - sleeve notes and so on - are already available with many digital albums. For example, I recently bought the re-issue of Morrissey's Southpaw Grammar digitally and it had the tracks, two videos and a digital booklet."

The Music Week Editor continues: "Where iTunes can improve, however – and I think this is what they are getting at – is making it more integrated and easy to access, bringing it all together in one package, so you can hear a track, say, then have the option to watch the video, or see clips from it being made, or read the lyrics.

"A lot of CDs now come in deluxe editions, with DVDs, extra tracks etc – this is a way of really pushing that digitally."

As a word of caution, Andrea Leonelli from Digital Music Trends remains unconvinced that Apple's mooted new interactive file format "that allows you to view booklet, lyrics, videos and listen to songs at the same time… will be available outside of Apple's ecosystem."

Leonelli also voices a concern that such an all-in format "would once again tie the consumer to Apple's hardware... nowadays you can download your songs from iTunes and use them ona variety of devices- I would not want a new proprietary format to re-established a "hostage" situation where the consumer does not realize the limit of the garden's walls until he wants to get out of it..."

Spotify: the new elephant in the corner

Simon Turner, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Gloucestershire agrees that, "like most things Apple do, it will look beautiful and work fabulously well...... nearly everyone will want it, and it will be another smart bit of Apple hardware," but, he adds, "is it enough to create extra content with iTunes tracks/albums to counter the giant that Spotify has become?"

Gareth Main, PR for specialist music agency Name Music, adds that, in his role as a magazine publisher for Fleeing from Pigeons, he thinks "it's an extremely interesting development that somebody is trying to develop a new way of reading publications on the move… If it can tie in with services such as Issuu, that could be an exciting outlet for magazine publishers."

"As for revitalising record sales, it'd be good if Apple started to focus more energy on a Spotify-esque streaming service. I can see the appeal of a service that offers artwork and booklets and other types of album add-ons, but the market must be very niche, and probably includes those of us who prefer to get the CD or vinyl anyway.

"We have seen with recent research that a lot of people are flocking to streaming services, I can see MP3 players and download sites as a whole becoming redundant in the next few years, and Apple should be embracing this new direction, rather that clubbing with major record labels to protect what they already have and fighting culture shifts - something that time and time again is proven to be a disastrous policy."

Free is free

"Free is free, and even the £9.99 monthly fee to have ad-free listening [with Spotify] is nothing when you consider just how much music you have access to," agrees Pop Music lecturer Simon Turner.

"You are of course tied to a Wi-Fi hot spot or access to a modem, but I get the feeling (and would not be surprised if it wasn't something under discussion) that Spotify is potentially not a million miles from offering a downloadable purchasing service for CD burning which may well be cheaper than iTunes and yet still offer the same kind of return to the artist.

"As the service develops, there is the likelihood that extra content will become available. It seems a natural step," adds Turner. "I would be very surprised if Spotify, or at least another company of the same ilk, doesn't come up with some healthy competition for iTunes in the very near future, extra content and all."

Turner identifies two factors that go beyond the extra content offerings from Apple and its label partners currently being discussed.

"The first is whether or not streaming services will be useable in places such as your car, via your mobile phone and so on. If the answer is yes (even if it's a couple of years away), then Spotify will be in a very strong position and Apple should be thinking at the least of offering a similar service."

The second factor is "whether or not people are actually going to be swayed that much by extra content [because] the net is already brimming with data that, it could be argued, already covers a lot of the ideas discussed, and unless Apple are doing something really different it is difficult to see what they will do to better what is already out there."

Turner is also unsure about the long-term impact on 'the music war', adding "in my honest opinion the "heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music" is not really the big issue in the minds of the listening public when they decide how to get the music that they want and, perhaps most importantly, how much it costs."

(Illustration of concept of 'iTablet' courtesy of Factoryjoe / Flickr)