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Rumor Has It: Apple Working On New Media File Format

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There is very little to get excited about when it comes to new media file formats, for the average person. Sure, they offer better compression, better quality, smaller file sizes, etc., but they also cause headaches, render hardware obsolete, and just generally inconvenience everyday computer users. Apple (s aapl) is reportedly working on its own new format, but it looks like it could bring something to the table which will give everyone something to get excited about.

The new format, which is code named “Cocktail,” according to various whispers and rumbling around the web, will be more than just a new single-media codec. Instead, it will supposedly package a multitude of different components into one convenient package, which is why it presumably earned the Cocktail nickname.

Just like a mixed drink, it’ll deliver the main ingredient (music) with a selection of experience-enhancing extras, including lyrics, sounds, movies, and more. The new format is designed to draw in more digital music customers by providing extras you wouldn’t get via piracy, and to attract mainstream consumers who prefer traditional physical media because of box art, liner notes, and other perks that don’t always come with digital downloads.

The hope is that by offering a variety of extra incentives to buy full albums, digital music retailers will be able to avoid the kind of pick-and-choose single track purchasing that currently dominates the majority of online transactions. Personally, I’m a fan of encouraging musicians to focus on the album as a whole rather than just one or two chart-topping singles, but it’s probably a lot easier to slap some lipstick on a pig than to completely re-imagine the way pop music is made.

At least some people are taking these rumors very seriously, and are acting preemptively to avoid being left behind. Sony (s sne), Warner, Universal (s umg), and EMI, who have a love-hate relationship with Apple, since it drives a lot of revenue toward the record companies, but also dictate terms as a result, are developing a Cocktail competitor, and aren’t afraid to let people know about it.

The label-spearheaded format will feature artwork, liner notes, songs, videos, and images, and will all be combined in a central launch page that opens when you click on an album file. It sounds like there won’t be much difference between the two formats, with the exception that Apple’s will probably be fully iTunes compatible from the start, while the label conglomerate will likely have to seek alternate delivery routes, like Amazon (s amzn), to distribute theirs.

While I personally don’t see myself rushing to pick up digital albums with a bunch of extras of questionable merit (shovelware?) thrown in, especially if they command a premium price, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of the ongoing battle between Apple and the major labels for control of the digital music industry.

27 Responses to “Rumor Has It: Apple Working On New Media File Format”

  1. Drspace

    I think the long term value of an integrated format will be at the individual track level. The additional text, graphics, links and/or video create the context that requires a trip to Google and the web today. It’s a big win for artists since every song can contain a bio and access information. Packaging several songs or pieces into a larger artistic object is then a choice, not a limitation.

  2. Ian Abbott

    My guess is that these formats will be variants of MPEG-21 Digital Items ( This is a DRM-able container format allowing nested multimedia items such as JPEG, MPEG-4 and text to be packaged together into one discrete file format. It’s been bouncing around for years – in fact I went to Apple UK HQ quite a few years ago and saw a presentation about MPEG-21 there from a research fellow.

  3. rickdude

    This could be great if it’s used to deliver greater value and increase sales (i.e. more for the same price) rather than get greater revenue from falling sales. I’m with those who hope that albums can make a comeback; for albums crafted as albums buying just 1 or 2 “hits” makes about as much sense as buying a trailer instead of a movie.

  4. I still buy CD’s and will continue to do so because of their superior sound quality. Not everyone listens to music with lousy Apple iPod earbuds. Some of us choose to listen using high quality gear, and can actually hear the difference between a lossy and lossless audio rip.

    Unless this new format offers CD quality sound, I’m not in the least bit interested. The quality of the tracks seems to be the last thing these music services and record labels think about, since they’re catering for mass consumption, and I think that’s pretty sad and disappointing.

  5. I buy most of my music from iTunes, use Macs at home and work, and own and iPod and an iPhone. So I probably qualify as an Apple fan.

    But I only purchase DRM free media, so if “cocktail” is infected with any kind of drm it goes in the fail column.

  6. Darrell

    I think this could be a great move if applied to digital video. I want to download movies from iTunes with some of the great extras you get on a DVD/Blu-Ray disc!

  7. Does nobody else see the connection between this announcement and the news last week that the new Apple “tablet” was specifically designed to deliver all this extra media along with the music?

  8. I think this is a great idea as long as it doesn’t jack up the prices. The main product is still the music and even with my CDs I rarely spend much time after the initial purchase going through the included booklet and cover art.

    Something integrated into the iTunes experience makes way more sense than something that requires external applications (browsers included) to complete the experience.

    Having the lyrics bundled with the MP3/AAC file is already a possibility today and I wonder why they haven’t done that yet.

  9. If true, it’s another attempt to get consumers to purchase “whole albums” because of “value added content”.

    Here’s a newsflash: People don’t buy “whole albums” anymore because they’re tired of paying $10-12 for something that has 3 or 4 songs that they like. The rest of the album is garbage. It’s always been like that. Just because I can get “liner notes” or “album artwork” isn’t going to entice me to buy the whole album.

    Why do you think the “pick-and-choose single track purchasing that currently dominates the majority of online transaction” is doing exactly that (dominating)? Because people are empowered to buy what and *only* what they want.

    Wake up, record industry. Instead of forcing customers what you want to give them (ie, high $$$ items), why don’t you listen to what customers want and work to give them more of that? More of what customer’s want == more sales == more $$$.

    • I actually prefer buying albums to singles. Always have. Most artists I listen to manage to compile more than 3 or 4 songs I like on one album, and I don’t typically find the rest to be garbage.

      However, for me, the album experience is about the music. I’ve long since abandoned buying CDs in favor of MP3s due to cost, easy delivery, and a lack of CDs lying around everywhere. The idea of a feature-y album format intrigues me, but I’m wary. I typically don’t care for additional features, but if we’re talking about a single place for (accurate) lyrics, as well as some videos and things like a “making of” documentary, I could see this format being appealing. If it was all packaged nicely, it might even make me a convert.

      I see potential problems with it, though. For starters, after reading the description, I immediately thought of things like “Enchanced CDs” which always bugged the crap out of me with slow and buggy Flash-based interfaces, autoloading the software on my computer when all I wanted to do was rip or play it, and in general just being a less than stellar experience.

      Another thing that worries me is that this will mark the return of DRM. Clearly this has the potential to be two competing proprietary formats that will only work when and where Apple and the record companies, respectively, want them to. I don’t intend to buy any special devices or software just to make these files portable, so if there’s even a hint of DRM, I know I’ll be sticking with MP3s.

    • I hate buying single tracks. I don’t buy music unless its part of an album. I don’t buy an album if I only like 2-3 songs. Call me crazy, but I think of albums as one complete piece of work—I’d hate only having a portion of that piece.

    • Maybe a Britney Spears fan doesn’t need to buy a whole album that only contains 3 hit singles, but there are lots of artists out there that compose an album as a whole. They don’t randomly pile up some songs and sell it as an album. Their albums are meant to be listened from start to ending.