U2 singer Paul Hewson (aka Bono) has hinted that Apple is working on a new music format that will make buying music “irresistible” all over again.
With Bono – who is a director of a VC fund with an interest in interactive media - it’s hard to tell to what extent he may be hyping his own interests, or how much he’s hyping Apple’s. Nevertheless, Hewsono told Time that Apple (we infer) is developing a "an audiovisual interactive format for music that can't be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way, where you can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you're sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens.”
Apple’s been here before, with the iTunes LP format it launched in 2009. This was supposed to make music downloads more lovely and cherishable, as streaming services entered the market. The format specified in great detail what artwork should accompany the audio file. In reality, it gave the buyer not much more than a bundled PDF, and so paying the extra pennies was not a compelling proposition.
However Apple has been doing more to add value to music than just pimping up the artwork, and surprisingly, these activities have drawn relatively little attention so far.
Last year it introduced its "Mastered for iTunes" specification. This is an exhaustive specification demanding that the quality of the master recording submitted to the iTunes meets a certain, Apple-set standard. You can find out more here. More recently it opened up the program and introduced tools to make the process easier for engineers and producers.
It isn’t hard to envisage a combination of the two – a rich multimedia format with guaranteed sound integrity, and glossy extras that fans like.
As for "not being pirated" – that very much sounds like a promise made to label executives – or perhaps the band’s ex-manager, Paul McGuiness. The idea of increasing the value of the recording is a great one. The digital music market today, based on access to all the music ever made, leaves music fans technically underserved, but economically superserved. Well-off people used to spend a lot of money on their music, and now spend a lot less. But the format is disposable, and the quality isn’t that great. So they spend much less on the music itself, with dire consequences for music production. Improving the quality and making the music fan happy, extracting a few more pennies along the way, should not be rocket science, you would think.
The question is – why is the job of increasing the value of music left to a consumer electronics/fashion company? The music business should have done a "Mastered for iTunes" years ago. ®