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iTunes: Can bonus-laden liner notes bring back 'the heyday of the album'?

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Apple is working with the Big Four major labels on a music-related project bearing the code name “Cocktail,” according to a news story a friend just sent me. The top-secret goal: “[R]e-creating the heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music,” in the words of one anonymous exec. No, Steve Jobs hasn’t finally signed off on an iPod with time-travel capabilities (as far as we know). Instead Cocktail aims to capture those bygone days through the use of interactive liner notes and other bonus content sold through the iTunes store.

That Financial Times story is light on details, but Apple and the labels would like to start selling albums with extensive liner notes — lyrics, photos, video clips — as soon as this September. All of which sounds pretty cool, as far as it goes. Still, I’m not quite sure whether this is going to be a particularly massive money-maker. Lyrics, photos, videos, and a wealth of other information about every artist under the sun are already available for free, whether they’re on official artist sites, fan communities, YouTube, or any number of blogs. You just have to be willing to do a little online leg work to find them.

So: How much would you pay for the convenience of having all those things in one place? Do you think this Cocktail of bonus content could have a shot at rescuing the labels’ bottom lines? The recreated heyday of the album awaits your answers.

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