albums plus apps // 27 Feb 2009

U2-iphone Listening to the stream of the new U2 record last week, I was struck by how the most interesting bits of the album were the atmospherics -- not necessarily the usual chiming guitars or Bono's falsetto, but the electronic blips and chimes and patterns and samples that build the intros and undercurrents of tracks like Moment of Surrender and Unknown Caller. I kept thinking to myself "wow, that little bit right there? That would make a great ringtone."

And of course, all of those bleeps and blips will end up as ringtones, legit or not. But it points to an interesting bundling opportunity that Apple's in a unique position to take advantage of: albums plus apps.

As the iTunes music store faces more and more competition from Amazon and other online sources (Facebook + Lala, anyone?), and the core deliverable of the music purchase becomes undifferentiated (DRM-free MP3 256kbps MP3 files), Apple's going to need to compete on a different angle. The device integration angle isn't as strong as it once was (the Amazon MP3 downloader / iTunes integration is pretty damned seamless), and competing on price is difficult when most of what you're selling is available online for free.

Today, Apple's offering digital add ons to album sales through iTunes -- typically these are things like PDF booklets, add-on videos, behind the scenes footage, etc.. But what I keep waiting for are the iPhone specific bundles that provide a platform specific experience for the fan that's tied into the Apple product line. There's no need to sell pre-loaded hardware with the artist's catalog...instead, develop applications that turn any iPhone / iPod Touch into a platform for fandom, and deliver those either bundled with tracks or a la carte...

Miscellaneous product ideas, in no particular order...

  • An app that installs a custom sounds set of ringtones / alert sounds that are based on the sounds from the record.

  • An app that provides a front-of-the-line concert ticket purchasing opportunities (think what American Express does, but exclusively for iPhone users), and real time tour info -- dates and locations, of course, but also set lists, photos, notes from the artist, comments from fans, etc...

  • An app that provides enhanced access to the band's social web presence. Simple registration, userpic badging, exclusive video content, etc. Couple this with geolocation services and the (yet to be released) push notification service and music marketers can reach specific fans in specific locations at specific times for reaching specific fans in specific locations and encourage, well, specific behaviors.

Steve Rubel recently pointed out on this blog three ways that media is innovating with user interfaces -- mobile being one of them. The music industry has a similar opportunity (and, frankly, motivation) for innovation around how to fans can engage with the artists they love. Browsing through the App Store today, there are very, very few artist-specific music applications available. But I can't imagine it will take long for the labels and Apple to capitalize on the hardware + software + distribution channel combination of the iPhone + iTunes.