Turn Up the Volume

August 19, 2014

Denver Public Library (DPL) has announced a new service called Volume. The product is intriguing: 37 albums of DRM-free downloadable or streamable music by Colorado artists. The music is available to any DPL cardholder for two years as a downloadable file; after that, it will be archived by the library, and may be rebroadcast.

In Ann Arbor, the library teamed up with the local record label Ghostly International. Denver is taking a different tack; the library put out a call for submissions. All Colorado artists were encouraged to submit their music.

Then a selection committee, composed of DPL staff and other members of the music community, reviewed the submissions and picked the ones they believed were of high quality. Again, 37 albums is the starting collection; they will put out the call for another 25 albums every quarter or so. Since the license granted by the musician for downloads is only for two years, this should yield about 200 albums at any time going forward. That’s a pretty interesting sample of local music for DPL cardholders.

What’s in it for the musician? First, there’s exposure. Over 400,000 people have DPL cards. The music may well be reviewed on the site, too. Second, there is a modest payment for the music ($100 for the full album; $50 for an extended play, or EP). Third, the agreement (PDF file) is nonexclusive; the library isn’t trying to restrict sales through any other channel. Fourth, DPL will also inform those who download the music that copyright forbids cardholders from making copies for others, although those who have downloaded it get to keep it.

The world of digital publishing is larger than ebooks. Like Ann Arbor, Denver is conducting an interesting experiment. Ann Arbor went with a single distributor’s catalog; Denver is having a more time-intensive, but perhaps richer, conversation with its community. But in both cases, the library is strengthening its relationships with local creators. That’s a good thing.

In their section titled “Why Are We Doing This?” DPL writes that it “has always been about our community, and we’re looking to reinforce that. We want to offer unique content that is not available in big box stores, support the local music, and connect the people of Denver with that vibrant scene.”

P.S. To see what the musicians themselves think of Volume, click here.

JAMES LARUE writes, speaks, and consults on the future of libraries. He can be reached at jlarue[at]jlarue.com.