February 11, 2014 Last Updated 11:35 am

Reinventing publishing: looking to other media platforms for inspiration, innovation

The word coming out of tech websites and magazines is that Apple needs to come up with something new if it is to stay on top. It is actually a familiar refrain, one that was heard before the iPhone, and again before iPad. But it is rather ironic that such talk would be coming from media properties that, themselves, could probably use a little innovation (unless you call aggregation innovation).

Every time I receive a package from Barcelona with a new CD release from Alia-Vox I am reminded of the issue of rethinking our products. Alia-Vox, which is the label of the classical musician Jordi Savall, every year produces a couple new releases that are simply stunning. Yesterday I received Bal•Kan: Blood & Honey, the latest CD book release.

Balkan-cover2I have written about these CD books at least three times since founding TNM in 2010. The reason is not just that the projects are worth mentioning, so much as they remind me just how much many of our media products need to be reimagined.

Bal•Kan is a three CD set, but rather than the typical jewel box with a booklet insert, Alia-Vox packages the CDs in a think, hardbound book – approximately 5.5″ by 7.5″. The book is over 600 pages long and even comes with an ISBN number. Is this a book with CDs, or a CD set in book form?

The book has its content in multiple languages – in this case, 12 different languages. As a result, there are actually only 40 pages or so of text in English, meaning that the release could just as easily be created in the tradition jewel box format if the booklet had been limited to one or two languages.

The end product is impressive, and certainly looks great on the shelf. As for the music, well, Jordi Savall is, and has been for a long time, a musician and conductor of the top order. But the goal here is far more than another classical music release. What more needs to be said of the Brandenburg concerti or the Four Seasons?

But Bal•Kan presents the music of the Balkans within the context of its history. The essays contained in the book focus on the political developments and violence of the region, as much as its musical heritage. As a result, one might think of the CD book format as reflecting the weight of its subject.

BalKan-SavallBut as innovative as the packaging of these CD books appears, it also seems obvious that something along these lines could be achieved through a digital product. Could not the eBook and the MP3 be merged into a new product.

I experimented with this myself last year when I created an eBook version of a CD release to be shown to the owner of a small, independent label. I took the liner notes from the CD release, added in more content, a photo gallery, even video. Then I added in a discography at the end with links to iTunes where lovers of the band could access more music, generate more sales.

The owner of the label, a frequent complainer about how digital had ruined the record business, initially said they would be interested, but in the end he never even looked the eBook. I moved on.

But I return to this theme every now and then when opening up yet another digital magazine or newspaper app that is simply a replica of what the publisher is producing in print. It is not the replica edition alone that irritates me, it is that rarely do we see publishers think outside their comfort zone to invent new ways to publish using some of the digital tools now available to us. Instead we may enhance our digital products, when what we really need to do, to get readers excited again, is to reinvent them.

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