Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) spoke at The Economist’s The World In 2012 Festival about the future of music formats. Wes has some experience with the recent trend of deluxe editions, so it’s not surprising that he sees tangible copies of albums as being a selling or marketing tool.
I’m amused at the idea of physical music media being a novel thing. And I’m sure he’s not too far off base. But I think he misunderstands the recent surge (of sorts) in popularity of vinyl. It’s not analogue for analogue’s sake. Some people are listening to vinyl because it’s analogue, but as he points out, most vinyl editions come with a download code for MP3s of the album. I believe most people are listening to the downloads, not the vinyl.
The appeal of special/deluxe physical editions do indeed have to do with artwork and liner notes. With artwork, bigger is better, so the 12″ vinyl gatefold is more attractive than a 5.25″ CD.
Just as we are used to listening to digital music files, we’ve become used to viewing artwork and reading text digitally. I’ve seen some digital downloads come with digital booklets, but they tend to be somewhat barebones. I have fond memories of reading liner notes on LPs borrowed from the library, (especially the 1960’s Bob Dylan albums like Highway 61 Revisited). Liner notes declined during the CD era and I’m afraid it’s now a lost art.