As regular readers of this blog know, I buy a lot of music, both on CD and by download. I was reminded by a comment to a recent CD review how frustrating it is to not get digital booklets with downloads. This may not be a big issue for pop and rock music, but it is certainly important to classical music, especially for music that is sung. Listeners may want to read the texts that are being sung, or follow libretti of operas.
Apple has been offering digital booklets with downloads since November 2004, starting with The Complete U2 (which is no longer sold). The 42-page booklet, in PDF form, contains song lists and album information, but no lyrics. Perhaps the most extensive digital booklet is that of the Bob Dylan: The Collection release of August, 2006 (also no longer sold). This 139-page PDF includes all the original liner notes from the albums in the collection. There are no lyrics, but lyrics for all of Dylan’s albums are available on his website.
Classical music took a bit longer to catch up. But there are a couple of reasons for this. First, Apple imposes a specific format for digital booklets. For this reason, record labels cannot simply make PDF files of their booklets, but need to rejigger them to fit Apple’s format, which you can see below.
Above is the first page of a digital booklet for a recent release from the King’s College, Cambridge label, an independent label that issues recordings from The Choir of King’s College at Cambridge University. The booklet contains track information, liner notes in English, French and German, along with texts of the works on the album and biographies of the performers. If an indie label can do this, shouldn’t everyone be able to?
But Apple is remiss in not allowing record labels to add digital booklets in older releases. Apple doesn’t allow labels to add any material to an album after it’s been released. In order to add a digital booklet, a label has to delete the original album and create a new album.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t explain why all new classical releases don’t include digital booklets. The only reason I can think of is that the record labels are lazy. Or that they’re trying to differentiate digital downloads from physical product, in an vain attempt to cling to an outdated form of distribution. Perhaps they think that by not offering digital booklets, they’ll get people to buy more CDs. But an experienced classical record label executive said that it’s not about trying to maintain physical sales; he said that classical labels still think of digital products as inferior, and don’t plan for digital booklets until it’s too late to do cost-effectively.
The same label executive pointed out that iTunes won’t promote digital booklets as being a “feature” of digital downloads (although they did, back when The Complete U2 was released). The iTunes Store is more interested in promoting the iTunes LP, which is more expensive, and more complicated for labels to produce (which is why there are so few, if any, iTunes LPs of classical recordings).
To be fair, some labels are doing it right, providing excellent quality digital booklets. Let me single out a few recent purchases that have good booklets. Hilary Hahn’s In 27 Pieces, on Deutsche Grammophon; Timo Andres’ Home Stretch, from Nonesuch; and GarciaLive Volume Two: August 5th 1990, Greek Theater, sold by the Jerry Garcia estate. I’ve also got excellent digital booklets from other labels, such as Harmonia Mundi, Fuga Libre, Decca and others, but not all these labels’ releases come with booklets.
The record label executive I talked with summed up the situation. “iTunes could have digital booklets with many of their classical titles if they weren’t blindly committed to a set of ill-conceived policies that leave classical music out in the cold.”
This may have changed since I posted the article linked above; I purchased an album last week, The Spirit of Gambo, with music by Tobias Hume, which contains a digital booklet in the same format as those which come with CDs. Or the label might have just snuck through a booklet in a non-approved format… ↩
Some labels take the easy approach: rather than changing the layout, they just add margins to get the booklets to fit the appropriate size, which Apple defines as 11“ by 8.264”, in landscape format. This isn’t rocket science, and takes a few minutes for each booklet. ↩