Online music enhances the sampling, sharing and impulse purchasing — but it obsolesces the giving.

I was in a record store on Friday, and there was a couple browsing through the shelves. Before long, the woman went up to the counter with the (excellent) Alice Russell CD, Under the Munka Moon. I overheard the conversation with the staff member at the record store. She asked if she could play the CD before she bought it. Just to check.

“It’s a gift for a friend,” she said. “It looks right — can I hear it?”

Having been satisfied that the gatefold cardboard CD packaging with the nice design looked suitably gift-ish for her (clearly cool) friend, the only thing left to check was to see if the music was a more or less satisfactory fit for the purpose.

Of course, it was.

The artwork, the feel of the design and the aesthetics of the disc had encouraged the woman to buy for her friend. The music was just another part of the experience.

“I hold this in my hand,” she seemed to be saying, “and it says ‘here is what I think of you'”.

So for our purposes, the question becomes — how exactly do you design that sort of gift-giving impulse into the digital music experience, in the absence of tangible packaging?

Here are some thoughts to get you started: you might wish to contribute your own:

1) A subscription methodology. For a one-off “gift-value” charge, provide a monthly or weekly download or membership privlege.

2) Gift vouchers. An easy one.

3) Make it gift-worthy. Include high quality photography and design into what you do. Go for an immersive experience.

4) Why not send it to the giver to present in a handy, gift-wrappable format? Say… a customised USB key with your music, artwork and videos?

5) Offer a personalised message to go with the music. Buy it as a gift, and the artists in question will say a quick happy birthday, anniversary or whatever…

These are just a few ideas.

But it’s worth remembering that music used to be one of the most popular of gifts — and now, online, it’s bought almost exclusively in a first-person fashion, which diminishes your potential market. Might be worth looking for interesting ways to address that situation.