Reuters takes a look at the state of album art in the digital age, and author Antony Bruno posits that in the future, album art may want to get a little more “interactive” in order to fully harness the capacities of its medium. Unsurprisingly, though, doing so right now is tied up in the same format wars that plague pretty much any other digital-distribution method these days:
So if fans want digital album art and related material as part of their digital music download, why aren’t the labels and digital music services making that available?
For starters, the services don’t have the capabilities to offer it yet. According to White, none of today’s digital retailers or device manufacturers — save Apple — have implemented the technology needed to support advanced album art or other interactive features, such as Flash or Java. Nor have they added a display mechanism capable of anything other than a static image. Of all the services, only iTunes has a downloadable video feature.
WMG tried adding interactive booklets to about 75 albums sold on iTunes this spring, providing extra photos, lyrics and links to multimedia content much like extras on a DVD. But the booklets require Flash technology, which Apple later disabled in Quicktime because of a security flaw for which it has yet to release a patch. White said WMG planned to make the digital booklets a standard element for all top-line releases, but the initiative is on hold indefinitely as a result.
But the music industry needs to agree upon technological and operational standards for how to provide this material across multiple services. It’s not fair to expect iTunes or others to create different album art features and technology for each label.
The only thing that will motivate labels to do that is the promise of more sales. White said advanced cover art and interactive features would be limited to full-album sales or that of smaller EP bundles, not individual tracks. The hope is that fans will buy more digital albums rather than cherrypicking singles if more features were attached.
At this early stage, the evidence is at best circumstantial, and the focus is on digital album art as a new form of creative expression.
Maybe I’m skeptical because the digital age has, as far as I can see, mostly inspired ill-equipped graphic designers to spew their attempts at album art around the world, but I seriously doubt that “interactive booklets” will do much to entice people to buy albums. Not only is there an entire generation that’s completely used to consuming music as solely digital files, with no added accoutrements–do you know anyone who has ever bought an album because of the multimedia extras bundled in with it? (After all, it’s not like the new format of CDs Disney is peddling has helped vault the Jonas Brothers’ record sales ahead of High School Musical or Hannah Montana.)