Apple introduced a new feature today that lets you buy an album from iTunes complete with extra material like bonus recordings, video footage, lyrics and more. This is the kind of package I was suggesting the record companies need to bring to CDs a couple of weeks ago in my post Record Companies Must Stop Being Stupid to Salvage CD Sales. By supplying these types of bonuses, Apple is luring the true fans to buy not just one or two great songs, but an entire package of music and multimedia in a move that should not only boost iTunes sales, but also salvages the idea of the complete album for a new generation of listeners.
One and Done
I know I probably sound old when I say it, but most albums these days only have one or two tracks worth buying, which is probably why young people have been conditioned to buy the couple of songs they like, rather than the whole package. Back in the day, we bought a vinyl album and we listened to the whole thing. As part of that experience, we learned to like the other tracks. And it turned out, they often were well worth listening to. Later the CD enabled us to skip tracks we didn't like, and a remote made that dead simple.
With the advent of iTunes, the idea of a whole package of music went out the window. People bought the songs they liked, made playlists of these individual tunes and packed them on the iPod to take on their way. The idea that an artist could tell a musical story disappeared. In the old days, artists like Bruce Springsteen and Kurt Cobain would agonize over the order of the tracks. They wanted the perfect transition, just the right flow to tell a musical story, but digital music took that control away from the artist. Listeners could reorder tracks themselves if they wished.
Enter the Digital Album
Today, Steve Jobs brought the album back. One example is Bob Dylans' classic Highway 61 Revisited (Deluxe Version) which gives you all of the great tracks that came on the original including Like A Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues and Ballad of a Thin Man, but also provides 13 bonus tracks from the original sessions and some live footage from the Newport Folk Festival. For Dylan fans (and you can count me among them), this is an amazing opportunity to listen to and see some rare material. Jobs has taken the digital buying experience to another level with this concept, and at the same time probably banged another nail into the CD's coffin.
This approach to me is pure genius and it's the reason why Jobs has a reputation of a man on a mission. Even after all these years, and a year of illness, he and the organization he heads continues to think and innovate and the Digital Album is just further proof of their ability to do this.