Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Return of the LP & what it may mean for Content Delivery.

I think it was generally agreed among my family that the coolest present I received this Christmas was the one my eldest daughter bought me. She ignored everything of my Amazon wish list, and instead proved that she did in fact listen to her father when he went off on one of his nostalgia trips about the music of his youth. She bought me a turntable. Yep one that actually could play the few remaining vinyl albums we had in the house (most of which now spend their days in frames on the living room wall.)

Once we had it set up and were spinning a few of the old records, I had a fairly lengthy discussion with her and her boy-friend about how a record and turntable worked, and just what was so special about the good old LP as opposed to a modern CD, or digital download. (Still seems a little funny to me that two 21 year-olds had never seen a record being played before.)

That conversation stayed with me over the holiday. Why had the LP had such a cultural impact? Records and record players had been around for decades before the sudden explosive growth of music ownership that started in the mid to late 1950s and early- 1960s. Sure the birth of rock-n-roll had a large part to play, but I thought there must be more to it than that. Then earlier this week I read the following passage by Jonathan Gould in "Can't Buy Me Love" his excellent social history of The Beatles.

"Ultimately the attribute that sealed the success of the LP in the popular market had little to do with its expanded capacity or its improved sound quality. Designated as 'packaged product' by the recording industry LPs were the first records to be sold in foot-square cardboard jackets faced with glossy cover art, which served as an alluring advertisement for the music within. This allowed them to be prominently displayed in racks or bins in virtually any kind of store; it also allowed them to be advertised as recognizable products in newspapers and magazines. (Singles in contrast, were still packaged in plain paper sleeves and sold mainly in specialist record stores.) The LP cover became a companion piece to the listening experience by providing photographs, biographical information and promotional copy."

As I've been working on my upcoming book, The Content Pool, I started to equate this great piece of social and economic history to the ideas of Content Delivery.

Think about the LP - it was still delivering the same sort of content as earlier record formats (78s and 45 singles), yes it was using new technology to deliver more in the same media, but it didn't find traction with its user base until the packaging and delivery channel was changed.

What made it work?

  • When the content was placed in the same location that the users frequented anyway - they no longer had to go searching for it.

  • It was clearly labelled and could be browsed - instead of having to read the fine print on a label, or be an expert.

  • It was presented along with additional information that gave the content context.

  • The new packaging was durable and could be accessed many times without degrading - inviting reuse.

  • Social networks and peer recommendation developed around the ease of accessibility and navigation.

As we all struggle with ways to present our content in new formats and on new media, maybe we can learn a few lessons from the past.

Now you will have to excuse me, I have to go turn this copy of "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl" over.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great points, Alan. The factors you mention were important, but I think your list might be incomplete. For once thing, you shouldn't underestimate the importance of delivering more content in the same amount of space. Many of us liked the LP because it let us play 20 to 30 minutes of continuous music without having to deal with a stack of 45s or 78s.

Once the LP caught on, its popularity was cemented by other factors -- for example, covers becoming works of art, and content being organized in such a way that it formed a continuous whole rather than simply being a collection of disparate songs.

As you said, we can learn a few lessons from the past. Soon we'll be delivering content using new media, like SmartPhone apps. We'll need to ask: Can they deliver content in formats and locations that people are familiar with? Clearly labeled and browsable? And so on down your list.