Major Labels and Apple to Battle It Out over New Digital Album Format

Major Labels and Apple to Battle It Out over New Digital Album Format

A new format that will give music fans a digital version of an album, complete with liner notes and extras, is quickly becoming a battle ground between Apple and the big four major labels.

As we reported late last month, iTunes and major labels Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI were working together to hatch a new music format, code-named "Cocktail," that would bring back the heyday of the album in an age where singles dominate the download charts.

Now, Apple has forged ahead with "Cocktail" on its own, according to the UK's Times Online and rejected the major labels' format, which has the working title of CMX. The labels reportedly approached the iPod maker about a year-and-a-half ago with their idea to bundle extra features into full album downloads, but Apple hopes to launch its version of the format within two months.

A senior record label insider told the Times Online that "Apple at first told us that they were not interested, but now they have decided to do their own, in case ours catches on."

Meanwhile, the major labels' version of the format is due in November, just in time for the holiday season, and will gradually be "soft-launched" with a few key releases, possibly including the next album by U2.

"Ours will be a file that you click on, it opens and it would have a totally brand-new look, with a launch page and all the different options," the label insider told the Times Online. "When you click on it you're not just going to get the ten tracks, you're going to get the artwork, the video and mobile products."

With full album sales plummeting in the digital age, and singles downloads skyrocketing, the music industry is scrambling to figure out a way to sell full albums again. The hope is that the CMX or Cocktail formats (take your pick) will come with enough extras that they could make full albums appealing to consumers again, even if they are downloaded instead of physically owned.

Then again, with peer-to-peer free music streaming sites like Spotify catching on like wildfire, or that much-talked about legitimate Pirate Bay getting back into the song-downloading business, this new digital album format could be rendered obsolete before it even gains steam. Remember the launch of the ill-fated mini-discs right around the time when CDs first came out?