Updated: 10:26 A.M., Sept. 18.
Those hints that U2 dropped last week — “We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed” — seem to be more than just a promotional posture. Time is reporting this morning that U2 and Apple — they of the free record that has, according to Billboard sources, been listened to (at least partially) 38 million times since it arrived in our iTunes libraries a week ago Tuesday — are collaborating on a new music file format that will “prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music,” Time‘s Catherine Mayer writes.
In Time‘s forthcoming cover story, Bono hints that the band’s next record is “about 18 months away” and will be released under the new file format. “I think it’s going to get very exciting for the music business,” Bono tells Time, “[it will be] an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way, where you can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never seen it before.”
Other than the aboe, details on the new technology are nonexistent (though more may arrive with Time‘s cover story), but the news is somewhat surprising in the wake of Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats and its Beats Music streaming service. It’s a business model at odds with digital album purchasing (a la iTunes), and one that is widely assumed to be on the wane as consumers are increasingly driven towards the access, versus ownership, model.
U2 and Apple have an uphill battle. An industry report released in early July predicted that, by 2019, streaming will account for 71% of digital music revenue, with digital download revenue to drop 39% over the same period. With consumer behavior, and the record industry with it, predicted to pivot so dramatically towards access over ownership in the next five years, it’s questionable whether a new file format, even a low-size, high-quality (and possibly locked down with a new, more flexible digital rights management technology) could reverse the tide.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.