“Deutsche Grammophon (DG), a division of Universal Music Group, the world’s leading music company, will become the first major classical record label to make the majority of its huge catalogue available online for download with the launch of its new DG Web Shop (www.dgwebshop.com).”
It takes some creative re-thinking of the term “major classical record label” to exclude the excellent and by most counts larger Naxos label, but even if DG & Company don’t consider the humbly innovative budget label from Hong Kong en par, they do take note what the competition does. After all, their new and laudable web-venture does seem to have taken more than a cue from Naxos’s on-line offerings (on Naxos.com and ClassicsOnline.com) which have proven highly successful over the last years. Asked if there had been any inspiration from those ventures, UMG’s Johnathan Gruber said that “the DG Web Shop has in common with Naxos that we all want to see classical music expand its availability and its audience” but that “DG took little inspiration from Naxos” and that the DG Web Shop had been in the planning long before the ClassicsOnline site was launched. Of the other differences/advantages of the DG Web Shop I had pointed out, the most curious (or bold) is surely that their site “carries only Deutsche Grammophon products [therefore providing] the strongest guarantee possible that whatever you buy […] is a great performance” (emphasis mine).
That’s the “shopping by brand-name” strategy, the virtues and disadvantages of which I have extolled in a previous post (where I used DG as an example) — but it’s still strange to hear from a seller the argument that less choice is really in the consumer’s interest.
In any case Deutsche Grammophon should not be chided for being late to the party, they should be applauded for joining others in what simply is a good idea and - presumably - good business. DG will launch its Web Shop on November 28th, enabling consumers in 40 countries to download music “at the highest technical and artistic standards.”
“This global penetration includes markets where the major e-business retailers, such as iTunes, are not yet available: Southeast Asia including China, India, Latin America, South Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe including Russia.
Almost 2,500 DG albums will be available for download in maximum MP3 quality at a transfer bit-rate of 320 kilobits per second (kbps) – an audio-level that experts agree is indistinguishable from CD quality audio; and which exceeds the usual industry download-standard of 128-192 kbps (as well as EMI’s 256 kbps on iTunes).”
A little jibe at EMI must be irresistible - and though I find that there is almost always a better word than “penetration” to use in a press release, the venture does sound impressive, indeed. (Audiophiles meanwhile might disagree about “indistinguishable from CD quality audio” — but then they often don’t find CD quality audio very appealing in the first place.)
The best news is surely that the DG Web Shop makes available almost 600 album titles which are no longer available on CD – with more out-of-print titles to follow.
“The goal is to digitize all the great Deutsche Grammophon recordings to be accessible for download – a treasure of music history, always available.”
This is the dream of perfect availability come true. Particular recordings need no longer have a minimum popularity to be available. Even if just a dozen ears consider Conductor X’s rendition of a particular piece a musical revelation (not enough to merit a costly re-issue and catalog maintenance in the traditional way), they will be now be able to have access to it.
Individual titles (< 7 min.) will be just over one dollar, regular-length albums just over $10. E-booklets - which include liner notes and cover art and would be particularly attractive to have for those out-of-print items, would be an extra dollar.
And for all those who are concerned about being able to play their downloads only on one player, or only so many times, or copy the music twice but then not be able to use the burned disc in the car etc., DG will offer all titles MP3s without Digital Rights Management - which is happy news for all your iPods and Walkmans and regular CD players for which you can burn copies.
Judging by Naxos’ success, DG won’t regret this move while classical aficionados and novices alike will benefit.