Times Online: Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI to launch CMX album download format

by Patrick Foster

The world’s big four record companies are to go head-to-head with Apple with the launch of a new form of album download that will include a digitised version of a record sleeve.

Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI are putting the finishing touches to an album format that will give music fans a computerised version of the sleeve notes that come as standard with a CD, including lyrics and artwork, and videos.

The format, due to be available in November, is aimed at boosting the sales of album downloads, which online buyers have failed to warm to despite a huge surge away from CD sales towards their digital counterparts. Although more than nine out of ten of all singles sales are made in digital form, for albums that figure is reversed.
by Patrick Foster

It is understood that the record labels approached Apple, maker of the iPod, about 18 months ago with the plan to revitalise album downloads by bundling together extra features in a single download.

Industry insiders say that their project, with the working title CMX, was rebuffed by Apple. The technology giant is now understood to be working on its own format, codenamed Cocktail, which it hopes to launch within two months.

One senior record label insider said: “Apple at first told us that they were not interested, but now they have decided to do their own, in case ours catches on.

“Ours will be a file that you click on, it opens and it would have a totally brand-new look, with a launch page and all the different options. When you click on it you’re not just going to get the ten tracks, you’re going to get the artwork, the video and mobile products.”

The new technology will initially be “soft-launched” to accompany only a few releases, possibly including the next album by U2.

“We are not going out in force,” the label source said. “What you are going to see is a couple of releases thrown out there to see what people like. We are working with the retailers now.”

Despite the success of singles downloads, the industry has found it harder to persuade consumers to buy digital albums. The 2009 Entertainment Retailers Association handbook shows that only 10.3 million of the 139.8 million albums sold last year were downloads.

A spokesman for the association said: “It is the great conundrum of the age: what would an album look like online? At the moment a download in no sense replicates that satisfying quality of a physical album.

“Think about the importance of the gift market for albums. Online it’s stripped down to the bare music, and there’s a lot more to an album than that.”

Another part of the problem is the small difference in price, with retailers offering heavy discounts on CD albums, the average price of which fell to £8.10 last year, compared with £7.41 for the digital equivalent.

Gennaro Castaldo, of HMV, said: “The price of a CD has come down massively in recent years, and there are year-round promotional catalogue campaigns that represent incredible value, such as two CDs for a tenner. This means that tracks on physical albums can often work out quite a bit cheaper than their digital counterparts.”

A spokesman for the BPI, which represents the British record industry, said: “Digital downloads have resurrected the single, and the competitive pricing and widespread availability of individual digital songs appeal to teenagers. While the CD remains the bedrock of music sales overall, a key challenge for the industry now is to upscale demand to the digital album.”


Posted by Ted • Monday, August 10, 2009 .