From Slashdot, speculation that iTMS will offer tracks in Apple Lossless format as early as next year. Assuming they also make these tracks free of their evil DRM, I’d be happy to pay a premium over the standard mp3/AAC tracks available. As a recording engineer and studio owner, I definitely can hear and appreciate the difference in quality between the lossy perceptual compression of mp3/AAC and lossless/uncompressed audio.
Call me old-school, but I often still buy CDs when I buy music (unless I’m buying just a single track in which case I will probably buy online). I like the physical artifact of a CD, I like the art and the liner notes, the higher-quality sound and the fact that the media serves as an archive and backup. When I buy a CD, I rip it on to my music server at home in lossless and 192 kbps mp3, I file the cover art, and then I stick the CD onto a spindle in a storage closet. So I’m not using the disc after I rip it, but I still like the security of having the disc itself, having suffered the economic and emotional loss of a hard drive crash in the past.
Making lossless audio available would remove one of my major gripes about purchasing downloaded audio, obviously DRM is another big one, which appears to be slowing going away, but the third thing missing, from my perspective, is a digital format that serves as a replacement for all the art and information that comes packaged with a CD.
As a music nerd, I love reading the lyrics, inside cover-art, thank-yous, performance and songwriting credits in the liner notes of an album. There ought to be a “virtual album art” format that bundles all this data with an album download so I can browse it on my iPod, laptop, etc. while I am listening to music. I realize a lot of this can be found online, but I want it packaged in a single digital file that I can view and explore offline as well. I’ve never understood why CDDB hasn’t built this out, rights issues notwithstanding.
Adding this kind of data to the digital album download would bring back something missing from the digital download experience, and it might help prevent the era of great album art from coming to end, which is clearly the (sad) path we are on now.