Why Do So Few Albums Sold on the iTunes Store Come With Digital Booklets?

Back in 2004, the iTunes Store started adding digital booklets with certain albums. It took several years, but more and more albums come with booklets. However, in the classical music section, this is still quite rare.

I had wondered why so few classical albums come with booklets. After all, one is much more likely to want a booklet for a classical recording, with information about the work, the artists and the recording, and with texts of works that are sung. Labels already have these booklets, and for recent releases, these booklets are in digital format, so it should be easy, right?


I was talking with someone who works for a classical record label yesterday, and he explained why his label’s discs don’t come with booklets on the iTunes Store, and why most labels don’t provide booklets.

It turns out that Apple imposes a certain format on digital booklets. Their pages have to be a specific size, one that is not that of CD booklets. Here is one example:

The pages are in a 4:3 format – interestingly, the same format as the iPad, though Apple started using this format back in 2004.

Regular CD booklets, as we all know, are square. Some labels provide PDFs paginated one page at a time, and others in double-pages, as in this example, where the cover of the booklet is a single page, but each two-page spread is shown as you would see it when reading the booklet:

Here’s an interesting example. The just-released set of Beethoven symphonies by Daniel Barenboim has a cover in 4:3, but the remainder of the booklet is the CD booklet’s pages surrounded by a lot of white space:

In other words, instead of creating a booklet in 4:3 format, Decca decided to simply add the extra space needed for this one to fit. An interesting workaround, but that’s a lot of white space.

So, because of Apple’s intransigence, labels cannot provide the booklets that they already have in PDF format, that many labels provide on their own sites when they sell directly. The time and money it would take to create another layout for these booklets dissuades the labels from doing so. Because of Apple, music buyers have less access to digital booklets than they would have otherwise.

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10 replies
  1. Steve de Mena says:

    STUPID move on Apple’s part to make this mandatory. I wonder if they really thought this through & realized that many labels just won’t bother. Is a non 4:3 formatted booklet worse than NO booklet? Who benefits from this 4:3 format??

    • kirk says:

      No one. I actually think that the double-page format works well on a wide-screen computer monitor, though single page is more readable.

    • Joe Nash says:

      Unless I’m missing something, I find this a bit of a lame excuse on the part of the record company. Okay, Apple limit the content to 4:3. But how much work is it to do what Decca did? Possibly an afternoon’s work.

      If Apple allowed any shape or format of digital booklet, it would probably have to lay them out differently depending on the device it was viewed on. And if that’s an iPad, then you’d still have the wasted white space anyway.

      • kirk says:

        Two things.

        First, the lack of booklets in general suggests that it’s not “a lame excuse on the part of the record company.” If there were just a handful of labels who weren’t providing them, then you might be right.

        Second, while it’s perhaps not too difficult to do the layout the way Decca did it for new releases, what about back catalog? When labels have hundreds, even thousands of discs, do you still consider this a “lame excuse” that they don’t go back and reformat their booklets just for the iTunes Store?

        One more thing. I’m not a layout person, but in the limited work I’ve done with page layout software, it’s not that simple to rejigger a layout to a new page size with a lot of white space. It may be simpler than I think, but remember that these are companies that are doing all their layout in a specific format, because of the limitations of the CD size.

        • oisteink says:

          There’s probably legal implications. They have the rights to a certain format – cd inlay. Other than that it’s just lazyness. There’s pirates out there doing it for fame and glory, so it’s possible to re-use the physical item. You can add something as complex as a border to fit a 3×3 picture inside 4×3.

  2. Yvonne says:

    I personally have no problem with a regular CD booklet design framed by lots of white space. It doesn’t stop me enjoying it on screen and should I choose to print it out then I have the option of trimming it to a booklet size. And anything is preferable to not receiving a booklet pdf at all.

    But I agree that it’s very short-sighted of Apple not to permit what could be considered a standard booklet format of two-page spreads: 24cm W x 12cm H.

    I’ve said this before, but I’ve often been hooked into buying a complete album rather than the particular work I was after simply because a booklet came with the album. That’s an iTunes sale that wouldn’t have been made without the provision of a pdf. And if every album had a booklet, that could really add up.

  3. Philippe Laurichesse says:

    Just as I thought, there are (surprise, surprise) commenters defending Apple. So typical.

  4. PierOz says:

    mmm…I’m a bit sceptical about Apple imposing one format being the reason why labels don’t provide booklets. Maybe it’s the main reason in iTunes, which is what your article is about, but the presence of digital booklet is not widespread either on other platforms like Qobuz. A recent example, the new edition of Matching Mole’s albums on Qobuz doesn’t come with booklet, and they seem to be good these booklets. That’s frustrating. Event more frustrating is Out There providing booklets that aren’t the real booklets but a few pages of their catalogue. Come on, is that so difficult?


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