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iTunes, Digital Albums, & Album Packages

This morning, it was announced that Apple and the music industry are hoping to prop up album sales by offering interactive features with full-album purchases.  I, for one, welcome the change, although I'm not sure it will change my buying habits much.

You see, I'm pretty sure I've never been the average music consumer.  I get CDs from plenty of Christian music labels for review and I listen to the ones that interest me.  In the late '90s I spent all my money on CDs.  And, to this day, I still buy probably a couple CDs per month, although that may be on the rise.  The data out there says that most music buyers just purchase the song or two they like digitally, but I've never really gotten around to doing that.  I will buy songs in their lonesome on iTunes, but it's still mostly those that are only going to be released digitally.

Why won't I buy them digitally?  Much of it is this issue of album artwork.  I have a tradition of getting the CD and coming home to my computer.  While the disc is being imported into my digital library, I browse through the booklet enjoying the photos and taking a glance at the credits and the lyrics.  I admit I haven't played an audio CD in an audio CD player for years, but I like having them around for my collection.

For years iTunes has been offering a "digital booklet" with some of their albums.  However, 99% of the digital albums I have purchased have little or nothing to the booklet at all.  Most have no digital booklet, and the couple that have included a booklet seem like they're not as full-featured as the physical booklet.  It's similar, but in most cases it's not really there.

If online stores like iTunes or Amazon MP3 start making digital versions of the physical booklets mandatory, I would love that.  Do I want fancy interactive features with my digital booklet?  Maybe, if it's done right.  I just don't want to lose the multimedia part of the album experience when buying digitally.

Also, I find it a bit funny that this new method is only now getting out via iTunes and the major labels.  Independent artists have been doing this for a year or two.  A couple years ago I talked about packaging and how independents were starting to offer a package where you got to download it now and get a physical copy mailed to you months later on release date. Just a couple weeks ago, Derek Webb offered his Stockholm Syndrome album online, including a digital booklet, months before it shows up in stores or online.  But instant gratification is available, because all of the download packages include a full download of the album, some nice ringtones, and even a video about the production of the album, as well as the physical copy that will arrive in September.  Many more artists are doing these same things to varying degrees and with various success without the big partners like iTunes.

Another big option independents are doing on their sites is an exclusive download with the pre-order.  This can be done with iTunes, for some artists, but many have been including much more comprehensive packages.  Fans of Mute Math who are excited for their new album and their fall tour can get their $49 package that includes a ticket to the tour, a download on the day of release, plus the immediate download of the lead single and two B-sides.  That's not all; listening parties to hear the entire album are going on this summer in each market of the tour, where the fans get to hear the entire album, give their feedback and even ask questions of the band.  Switchfoot's pre-orders of its October release, Hello Hurricane, will include a full concert DVD and an immediate downloads of the new single and a couple audio tracks from the DVD concert.  If there's any problem, it's that I'm giving these bands more money than I can afford to because of these great premium packages full of exclusive content.  But I guess that's what happens to a music geek...