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Sunday, July 26, 2009, 08:35 pm PT (11:35 pm ET)

Apple's "Cocktail" may spur whole album sales in iTunes

Worried that their iTunes music sales are being reduced to nothing but single-song purchases, major music labels are now reported as working with Apple to bundle special apps with albums and rekindle whole album sales.

Known so far only under its "Cocktail" nickname, the effort is purportedly a multi-party collaboration between Apple as well as EMI, Sony, Warner and Universal that would go well beyond the PDF liner notes often included today.

According to those speaking to the Financial Times, Cocktail would seemingly resemble an app and include both the usual notes but also separate lyrics, photos and other material that listeners could navigate outside of the usual iTunes player. It would even be possible to play all the songs from this environment.

The move would primarily be instigated by financial worries at the labels. While the actual volume of music sales is large, the larger music publishers have been unhappy with the preference towards per-track sales on iTunes instead of full albums, which have been in free fall both in iTunes and in physical stores. Profit margins on individual songs are claimed to be tight even with significant price hikes for some of the most popular music, and whole album sales often generate more relative income. An unnamed executive has supposedly also considered it a form of nostalgia: the aim is partly to wind the clock back to the "heyday of the album" when people would listen to whole albums from start to finish, he says.

If true, the bonus material would be ready for iTunes by September, just in time for Apple's by now annual special music event that may also bring camera-sporting iPods.

Additionally, the newspaper makes tentative assertions that Apple's upcoming tablet device will launch relatively near Cocktail and would have access to both the App Store and the iTunes Store. Whether it would actually support Cocktail isn't mentioned, but in this view it would be an "entertainment device" rather than a full computer. Seeing it as a technically more advanced counterpart to the kindle, book publishers are claimed to be very interested in having e-books on the device.

Doubts are cast on some of these claims by AppleInsider's own historically reliable sources, who noted that Apple chief Steve Jobs has personally scheduled the tablet for early 2010 — well away from September and the supposed holiday timeline. These tipsters have previously confirmed that it uses a roughly 10-inch display and an ARM processor rather than the x86 architecture chips used in MacBooks.