Competing formats, bonus material under consideration by music industry

Various reports have come out about moves being made by the music industry – including Apple – as they seek to shore up sales not just of single songs but of full albums.

As Epicenter rounds-up, Apple and the major labels seem to each be working on their own formats for full albums that would be loaded with bonus content, creating an incentive to purchase that complete album instead of just a single at a time as has become the norm among buyers. The two formats don’t seem to be, as Van Buskirk at Epicenter says, at war since the parties are working together to some extent and the different formats are likely going to be used in different stores.

This story dovetails nicely with a question Scott Kirsner posed the other day when he asked what the future of “DVD extra” material is in the age of digital distribution. The two options he offers are that they will be folded into the movie’s online marketing campaign or that some will be offered for free but others (particularly those with high production costs) will be available as a la carte offerings for a buck or two on top of the film itself.

DVD features

In the comments on Scott’s post I came down on the side of these features being made available during the marketing campaign, but on a staggered schedule that supports not only the movie’s theatrical (or other initial) release but then as a way to continue the conversation about the movie into its home video or secondary release life.

For the music industry I think the best thing that could be done is to go back to the traditional 45 LP, cassette single model: When someone buys the most popular song of the moment they get a B-side from the album as well, giving them a “free” taste of the rest of the album and thereby giving them a stronger reason to complete the album.

But I think it’s interesting that both the music and movie industry seem to be re-thinking the value proposition of additional content. What needs to be stated, though, is that in order to truly become a factor in the consumer decision making process additional content needs to have as much  value as the core content itself. That can be value in the form of replay-ability or in the form of social capital, something that gets peers talking to each other on the same level that core content does.

That’s why I think free bonus material is a better model.

Imagine if, when you bought a song on iTunes you were given the option to subscribe to a video podcast by the artist. (Or you can use movies or books or whatever in this idea as well.) So you listen to the song and then a week later you get the latest episode of the podcast delivered to you and think “The song they played in that episode was pretty good.” and you go buy that. After a song or two you’re probably going to go ahead and just buy the rest of the album.

Regardless of the model there’s obviously a place for bonus material that supports and enhances the core content being sold. It’s just a matter of figuring out how that best works out.