Talk about a possible Apple tablet has increased over the past week, starting with an Apple Insider story Friday and a Financial Times story yesterday. The sources for the FT one seem to be in the music industry:
The device is expected to be launched alongside new content deals, including some aimed at stimulating sales of CD-length music, according to people briefed on the project. The touch-sensitive computer will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally.
Those “content deals”?
Recording industry executives said Apple planned to use the larger screen to offer new services such as interactive booklets and liner notes that come along with purchases of entire music CDs.
While iTunes moved legal sales of digitised music into the mainstream, the digital take-up for full CDs has disappointed the industry. Consumers usually select just one or two tracks.
Wowâ€”liner notes and interactive booklets!
Whenever I read the word “interactive” it reminds of me of last year, during the presidential campaign, when everyone I knew was following electoral college scenarios on various news websites. A friend of mine told me he liked the one at LATimes.com. “They have an interactive map,” he said.
It wasn’t until later, after more discussions, that I realized he didn’t know what “interactive”meantâ€”that he could, in this instance, click on the states to turn them red or blue and so change the electoral vote totals. He just liked the colors and accepted that it was, somehow, “interactive.”
All of which is to say that such packages aren’t going to do anything for digital sales of full CDs. People buy just their favorite songs from their favorite artists because, now, they can.
In the great pop era coursing through the first decades of the last century, people bought sheet musicâ€”of songs, not albums. In the first ten or fifteen years of the rock era, too, they mostly bought songs, in the shape of 45s.
There followed, in a happy confluence of commercialism and art, the album era, which lasted right up until 2001. It was a good thirty years for the record industryâ€”particularly when it got folks to rebuy their collections on cassette and then CDâ€”but it’s over now. We’re back to people buying songs, and there’s no reason it’s going to revert.
My theory? Steve Jobs is tossing another handful of gossamer dust into the eyes of the industry. The last time was when he allowed the prices of music at the iTunes Store to rise.
It seemed like a defeat for Apple. In fact, to the extent the increaseâ€”up to $1.29, from its previous across-the-board 99 centsâ€”drove people back to the file-sharing networks and undercut the music industry’s sales even more, it worked to his advantage.
(I won’t be surprised, should the fancy-schmancy new album packages come to fruition, if the labels charge a premium for them. How much more would you pay for an “interactive booklet”?)
Whether the tablet will be a hit or not no one knowsâ€”there’s an argument against it hereâ€”but I do know that music fans are not going to go back to shelling out $10-plus for filler-laden hour-plusses of music, interactive or not.