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Monday, August 10, 2009

Cocktail – Apple Tries to Revive the Album

Apple is working on their next every-consumer-must-have-device much to the chagrin of anyone, well…of anyone.  This time, as rumour’s been for the last few months, the fruity company is working on iPhone’s big little brother: the iNetbook.  Or iProd. Or, iSomethingFlashy.

Apparently it’s going to come in like an iPod touch, but with a 10” screen, and like some other netbooks it may be tethered to a data plan from a wireless carrier.  That’s so that you can subsidize your purchase with a three year commitment, likely adding at least $1000 in user fees to what might amount to an already $800 device.

The ‘big’ feature that Apple is leaking is Cocktail.  This is apparently a co-op from Apple and the big four labels that will revive sales and possibly give you features with your music.  Cocktail will be an application that allows music companies to bundle extra junk with music that you purchase in what we old folk used to call an ‘album’.  It will be like CD liners and maybe videos and some level of interactivity.

Why Cocktail Will Work

I’m not an Apple fanboy, but I certainly know a few.  For anyone who can justify buying YetAnotherAppleProduct they are likely going to drink the Koolaid and tell you how wonderful Cocktail is as well.

There will be some coolness to the app.  You have to give Apple credit and admit that they do have very good design, very good product depth and reasonable value. Though they certainly aren’t the best at any of those things, they have proven to be the best marketing machine consumers have ever had to face.  Apple is the King of Perceived Obsolescence.

Interactivity won’t be enough, though, and if the Mac boys come to the table with just a page-turning app plagued with downloadable movie clips from the band warming up this will suck.  If they pull it off, however, it will be a rich experience worth sitting down with a couple of friends.  There will be a community aspect to it so that I can share the album with a friend over WiFi if we are sitting close enough so that we can experience the features at the same time, or even lead or follow someone through that experience.

Hi-resolution, explorable art will also be a deal-maker.  Imagine loaded, three-dimensional scenes, scenes that shift or alter themselves slightly with every song you play off the album. Imagine art that is loaded and accessible through touch with everything from back story for the current song to mini-games to hidden content only available when certain tracks are listened to.

Yes, Cocktail could be quite the experience.

Why Cocktail Will Fail

Ahh….but that all comes at a cost, and there’s no guarantee that it will actually pay off.  I might might buy one or two of these deals before it gets old.  And if you’re talking about something that is as interactive as I would like it to be, we’re talking about significant production costs.  Hollywood is feeling the effects of hard times in multiple ways: not only are consumers spending less on entertainment these days, but many of them are already getting it for free.  How will they justify producing these things if they know it will only be a matter of time before someone figures out how to break the protection off a Cocktail album and seed a torrent?

Back in late ‘90s I was barely 20 years old and still trying to grow facial hair.  I was getting fairly critical of the music industry and had observed the rise of blank media: the CD-R disc.  Most computers were shipping with a burner or had it as an option.  The music companies were still trying to sell me 12 tracks when I wanted two, but they still made me pay for the crappy ones.

I scrubbed big label music from my budget and told the big four to eff-off (not sure they ever heard me, but I was young and thought I was making a difference). I started buying indie music and music from smaller labels.  I vowed that I would not every purchase music again until I could buy the track I wanted for a dollar.

It would be years before music services were legally available in Canada, and even then, with a limited library.

Ranting aside, there are some qualities of an album that I miss.  There used to be a time when an album was a big deal.  There was a simple pleasure in saving up some cash from your first job, walking down to the music store and musing over the vinyl, tapes and those new-fangled CDs.  You’d bring your new purchase home and listen to the snapping as you tore off the plastic and anticipated that new-music smell.  Sometimes your favourite band would use a funky paper, or a unique packaging technique, or they had some tactile feature stamped into the printed paper that you could feel, you could actually feel it.  Some bands would give you the lyrics, others still would write out chord progressions.  It was awesome.  I have friends who would spend hours reading every liner note while trying not to de-crease any of the folds in the booklets. I used to listen to the album straight-through, at least once.  It was a true multimedia experience.

Cocktail has nothing on that.  Instead of saving up cash kids will use mom or dad’s credit card.  There is no ‘unwrap’ process, only BUY NOW!!!  You don’t pick up packages I’m willing to bet that, at best, it will be a tiring format with cookie-cutter features that everyone buys once to try it out.

Kinda like a Pet Rock.

1 comment:

  1. iTunes already bundles PDF booklets and often has bonus songs and music videos when you buy an album.

    I agree that the whole "unwrapping" experience is worthwhile, but 99% of the time I am listening to music, I am just listening while I am doing something else, driving, running, working, etc. What good is the extra content then?

    I'm happy enough with the iTunes store. I can get what I want for cheap enough it has value, and since there is no longer any DRM I actually own the files I purchase.

    I just hope they don't cripple iTunes to get this cocktail thing to sell