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Re: [ARSCLIST] Back-catalog (was Columbia Studio/Warehouse Fire)

Hi Al:

This is all encouraging!

For what it's worth, Apple has streamlined their market-leading (by far) portable digi-player line to three models: iPod with video, Nano and the new smaller Shuffle. The iPod and Nano both can play WAV and ALF files (unsquashed formats). The new Shuffle cannot play ALF (nor could the old one) but can play WAV -- whether that's practical or not with a 1 gig storage capacity is another matter. I would bet the future of the Shuffle type player is to get more memory for the same price, since flash memory chips continue to fall. I predict we will see a 4-gig Shuffle type player (no display, rudamentary controls) for the same $100-150 in a couple of years. At that time, the Nano type player (flash memory, display screen, no hard drive) might be 20 or even 40 gigs for the same $300. The hard drive iPod could be 200 or even 300 gigs for the same price as today, and perhaps with even better video capabilities.

My point is, Al's analogy to early TV will hopefully bear out. There's no space-limits reason to use squashed files in the future I'm predicting. Broadband continues to spread and the target iPod customer usually has broadband anyway, so downloading logistics are no longer an issue in the future.

I'll go out on a limb here and make one more prediction. I think offering full-quality digi-downloads for somewhere in the neighborhood of CD pricing ($1-1.25 per song, $12-15 per album) will attract a bigger audience than some pundits think. If it's marketed correctly, it could bring a bunch of new users into the iPod fold, people who have somewhat discerning tastes and were previously turned off by the quality of downloaded files. This trend will hasten since much of the music to this older, more mature (and richer) demographic's taste is or will be out of print in CD format.

I think another thing Apple and iTunes can address -- or someone else will -- is the need for better metadata to go along with album downloads. There's no reason this metadata can't be part of the digi-files. I know MP3 and MP4 have robust tag-info capabilities and I am assuming that if Apple or Microsoft put a security wrapper on a full-quality format, they'd of course include robust tagging capabilities. With a screen good enough to watch movies, surely some iPod users long for album notes and other details. Yes, album art is already included in some cases, but some of us really miss the notes and recording details.

One more positive thing that Al touched on. A LOT of back-catalog stuff is already in the can in digital form. Remember, many CD's from the early days are now out of print. And more go out every week since the CD retailing universe is so consolidated and limited. This whole catalog of already-digitally-mastered material can be re-mined with a business model that does not require thousands of sales per album per month or year to justify re-releasing it. One company that has been active in exploiting this fact has been Universal. They now have dozens of Verve and Mercury jazz reissues available as iTunes squashed format at the iTunes store and linked directly to Verve's website. Many of these albums were issued on CD in Japan first or in the US in the 80's and early 90's and are now out of print. Yes, some of the material has made it to various box sets and anthologies, but the original album-sequence/album-art/album-notes versions are long out of print. I think it's nice to offer this variety in some format instead of letting it molder in the vaults, but I have a two-fold beef with the current implementation: 1) the poor sound quality of the AAC/MP4 format (even as compared to the original LPs, much less the out-of-print CD's) and 2) the total lack of notes/details which are pretty much mandatory for most jazz fans. At $10 per album, I'd call this a ripoff in its current form, but I'd be much more inclined to say it's a good deal if the audio were true CD quality (ie unsquashed) and if there were robust song/album tag information, I'd argue it's worth CD pricing for the convenience as long as one can still burn a CD as well as load into their iPod. I don't really have a beef with Apple's copy-protection system as it is now (5 computers, 5 or 6 CD burns allowed). I have yet to bump against any problems with it and I am definitely not a one-computer or one-MP3-player person. Bob Ohlsson's point about copyright protection is key -- there will simply be no decent music made or reissued if artists and labels cannot make money as commercial music making is not a charity endeavor. I have not heard much hue and cry against Apple's system and reports I've seen indicate labels that sell through iTunes are happy with the revenue stream.

All in all, here's hoping we're moving forward from a very bad phase in the music business and we'll see a future of higher quality, more consumer choices and an accompanying growth of the business. I'm hoping that even worst than iTunes formats like Real and Yahoo "radio jukebox" streaming garbage quality will be a lame detour and go away.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Al Quaglieri" <al@xxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, October 04, 2006 8:05 AM
Subject: [ARSCLIST] Back-catalog (was Columbia Studio/Warehouse Fire)

Do you think that we'll see a large amount of the more obscure
(obscure = not economically viable as a CD reissue) back-catalog
material showing up exclusively at places like iTunes?

Yes. I think the way it'll go is 1) all the clearable (with artists & contracts, etc) stuff currently in print, prioritized by popularity, will go online; then, 2) all the clearable, already-digitized stuff (such as out-of-print CD's) will appear; finally, 3) selected analog masters will be digitized exclusively for online...by "selected," I mean either once-charted-but-out-of-print material, early works/outtakes/radio shows/live broadcasts by name artists, and "cult" titles which have acquired enough cachet to become visible at the corporate level.

It would be great if there were a final option, i.e. 4) everything
else in the vaults, but the time and manpower necessary for that -
combined with the diminishing pool of analog-qualified transfer
engineers, divided by just how long the majors will continue to pay
for storage of a century worth of non-income-producing masters - is unlikely.

And, do you think there will be a big enough market to justify two
tiers of quality for downloaded music -- the mass-market
lossy-compressed AAC and perhaps a slightly pricier "hifi" version
in full CD quality (in some as yet un-named copy-protected but full
resolution format)?

I think so. I understand there are already companies doing this. My take on lossy formats is that this is like the early days of TV: dinky screens, fuzzy pictures, but folks were thrilled with the technology...but as the novelty wore off, consumers came to demand more from it. The same will happen to digitized, portable music.

As always, these are solely my thoughts, and I neither speak for nor
represent any corporate entity herein.

Al Q.


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