Fast Company

Record Labels Mix Up a Rival to Apple's "Cocktail"

Silly, music business. Will the record labels ever learn? There's news today that a group of record labels are busy working on their own next-generation digital album format to rival Apple's "Cocktail" system. It's doomed to failure.

Apple CocktailNot the concept itself--the actual format, given the working name of CMX by its parents Sony, Warner, Universal, and EMI. It's a digital wrapper for music tracks, trying to re-inject some life into the dying habit of collecting music into albums by adding textual, graphical, and video content. At least that's the technical description: A spokesman speaking to the U.K. press described it thusly: "Ours will be a file that you click on, it opens, and it would have a brand new look, with a launch page and all the different options. When you click on it, you're not just going to get the 10 tracks, you're going to get the artwork, the video, and mobile products." Perhaps I should have warned pregnant women and the faint of heart before sharing such an illuminating quote.

CMX was apparently offered to Apple in a behind-the-scenes business discussion, but Apple rejected the idea in order to develop its own spin on an album wrapper format, the Cocktail recipe we've heard bits about recently. So Sony and mates decided to press on anyway.

It's a classic mistake. Apple, with soaring iPhone sales and with iTunes in a commanding position as the digital music portal for the world, knows its game rules pretty well. If the folks in Cupertino chose to turn down CMX and develop their own format, I imagine they had some carefully thought-out reasons. CMX is now unlikely to be supported by iTunes or the initial versions of the iTablet that everyone's presuming will accompany the launch of Cocktail, both of which are likely to doom the format. The labels' decision to continue on anyway merely demonstrates some of the same "our way is best" thinking that has brought them into collision with the whole digital music business in the past.

Nope. Apple's way is best. Or at least it has been until now. If the rumors are right, we've only got a handful of weeks to find out anyway--Cocktail is rumored to be served up sometime in September.

[via The Guardian]

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3 Comments

  • abashford

    @Kit. I think it has go in that direction (cloud) for one very good reason: Most people don't want to be in charge of their own file management. Apple's success in the 'down-loadable' market has been the integration of the computer, the iPod and the network so that the average consumer doesn't have to get their hands dirty. Apple is already moving in the direction to take the computer out of the loop, with content being downloaded directly to iPhones. IMHO the 'average' consumer would rather just log into anything that looks like a computer or an iPod and have access to their music. You bring up a good point about MobileMe, I never thought that Apple could use this paid service as a portal to hosted music. Any idea if they have any such plans in the works?? That would actually get me to buy MobileMe!

  • Kit Eaton

    @Adrian. Ah, the ubiquitous files of cloud-service heaven... it kind of exists with Apple's MobileMe iDisk, but it's not amazingly large storage. I agree though, that it's likely to be the way things go in the future.

  • abashford

    The music labels have yet to realize that they need an offer that is better for CONSUMERS and not for THEMSELVES. Unfortunately when they are negotiating with each other, it is hard to put the consumer first. Agree... doomed to fail.

    Why don't they do something that Apple seems unwilling to do (because of the cost)... once you buy and download your content, you can ALSO access it from anywhere online from their servers. That could be a paradigm shift, especially if they could cut the bandwidth providers into a piece of the action.