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Thoughts about Digital Les Mills Release Kits

As Les Mills instructors, each quarter we pay for a release kit (one for each program we teach). The kit is a clamshell with an audio CD, DVD of the masterclass and educational videos, and liner notes with the choreography.

In the past year or so, there’s been an effort to go “all digital” with these kits. This post aims to highlight how the physical release kits still have value, and that there could be room for an option to offer physical and digital media.

Context

  • Les Mills materials are distributed differently depending on country, and at least in the US, the region of that country. (Fitmarc is the distributor for the US.) For example, when I trained for RPM in Charlotte, most people were from the East Coast region, which supported uploading your assessment video via website. My region (South Central) did not have that available; I was required to burn a DVD and mail it in. Therefore, not everyone has the same options.
  • There are pros and cons to any distribution approach. My goal is to bring a bit more attention to the areas where having a physical product is more helpful.
  • All instructors have access to the Les Mills Instructor Portal. This is where corrected choreography notes can be found, as well as other downloadable materials (e.g., program manuals for each individual format).
  • I do not speak for Les Mills or for Fitmarc; these are my opinions.

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Thoughts about Each Kit Component

Audio CD

  • Almost every instructor I know uses some sort of portable music player, typically a smartphone.
  • Most of the time, various CD-ripping apps I’ve tried can’t get the tag (e.g., title, artist) information for the Les Mills CDs because they’re not as widely distributed. That means I tag the files by hand, which is time-consuming.
  • I’ve been in several classes where the smartphone approach failed: the device locks up, the battery dies, etc. The CD players in my club have never let me down. I always carry a CD of whatever program I’m teaching in my gym bag.
  • Burned (as opposed to pressed) optical media is less stable than you’d think.

What I’d like: A physical (pressed CD) as well as access to the digital audio files via the Portal. Fitmarc already has an order history of which releases I own, so this could work just like any other paid media service (e.g., Amazon Prime): If you paid for it, you can download it whenever you want.

DVD

  • For RPM, I use the DVD-projector system at my gym to ride along with the masterclass on the big screen. My gym’s A/V system does not have a “video in” connection, and I’m not inclined to go messing with the cables behind the cabinet.
  • For BODYJAM, I dance along with the masterclass at least three times using my laptop. Next, I use the alternate audio track feature to turn off the presenters cues (i.e., just hearing the music). This feature is way more useful than I originally thought it would be. I can dance what moves I think are correct, and then peek up at my laptop to see if I’m still on track.

What I’d like: A physical (pressed DVD) as well as access to the digital video files via the Portal. If the video codec they use supports multiple audio tracks (for music-only), I would be more at ease with not getting a physical disc, considering I only use the video to prepare for instruction, not the actual delivery of a class.

Choreography Notes

  • The notes are high-resolution printing on a semi-gloss paper stock. The former aspect is important because when rendering small point sizes for fonts, crispness makes a difference in readability. The latter aspect is important because I sometimes use the notes while practicing, meaning sweat tends to get on the pages.
  • In RPM, the notes are very convenient to rest on the bike while learning new choreography. They’re just large enough to see and small enough to not take up the entire handlebar section. For BODYJAM. the notes are less useful while practicing because my arms are usually occupied.
  • The main thing I use the notes for is class preparation, especially when reviewing before class or revisiting a track I haven’t taught in a while. I make notes in the margins to remind me of better ways to remember choreography or of differences I spotted between the notes and the masterclass.
  • The main concern I have is that the notes (especially BODYJAM to distinguish between Flava and Breakout) rely quite a bit on color to draw attention or distinguish elements on the page. Inkjet color may be widely available, but is not colorfast. Color laser has dropped in price, but is not in everyone’s home office yet.

What I’d like: A physical printing of the notes as well as access to a PDF via the Portal. At a minimum, at least a suitable black-and-white PDF that could be printed using a commodity laser printer.

Wrapping Up

I’m all for helping the planet by reducing the shipment of physical goods across the globe. I also realize that bandwidth for downloading digital content still costs money as well. However, at least in the US, the digital release kit costs the same as the physical one, which is why I haven’t gone digital yet: The benefits still outweigh the costs.

Les Mills is an international corporation, and I’m not privy to the costs they incur for distribution, digital or physical. My guess is that they’ve decided digital release kits offer more benefits, and are heading that direction after giving it considerable thought.

Perhaps there could be some middle ground by working with regional companies that specialize in low-volume production runs. For example, there are already companies that handle “on-demand” printing of books.

It’s my hope that Les Mills can create a hybrid system where we have access to physical and digital materials, possibly at different pricing levels. For example, I’d opt for digital video, pressed CD, and paper notes, even if I had to pay a bit more for that combination.

The times are changing, and I look forward to how this will play out. Regardless of the outcome, I enjoy teaching these programs and will work around whatever minor inconveniences that manifest themselves.

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