Sony, EMI Elaborate on Digital Plans

Sony, EMI Elaborate on Digital Plans

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The digital land rush continues to rumble as major labels roll out new alliances and hope to position themselves for the downloadable future. Within the last two days, both Sony and EMI have unveiled plans to deliver their music to fans in unique ways.

For EMI, the route to the shoppers' wallet will go through musicmaker.com, the online site that allows consumers to piece together customized music mixes by picking and choosing from a library of over 150,000 tracks. (The selected tracks, usually twelve songs for about $15, are either shipped in CD form or downloaded straight to the consumer's computer.)

EMI, owner of Capitol and Virgin Records, announced that it is purchasing half of musicmaker.com and will soon add much of the label's enormous catalog to musicmaker's menu. It's a back catalog that includes releases from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Garth Brooks and the Beastie Boys. Musicmaker co-CEO Bob Bernardi says no particular EMI artists or songs have been promised, but he does expect musicmaker's library of songs to hit the 500,000 mark by the end of the year.

Clearly, the acquisition will help fuel musicmaker's customized compilation business as it competes with cductive.com, customdisc.com and others. But it also gives EMI an experienced digital downloading partner and a much-needed base from which to expand once the industry agrees on a secure standard as recommended by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI).

Sony meanwhile, announced plans to make approximately 4,000 of its older titles available for digital downloading at retail outlets via Digital On-Demand's Red Dot Network kiosk system. Virgin Megastores, Coconuts Music, Strawberries, Camelot Music and K-Mart stores are expected to be among the first to install the kiosks later this year.

The idea is that record stores can only stock so many titles, so instead of turning away disappointed customers who can't locate the Sony record they're looking for, they'll be able to download it at the kiosk in fifteen minutes, complete with original cover art and liner notes. (A dedicated high-speed network, RedDot Network kiosks will burn albums onto a CD, DVD, MiniDisc or even portable devices as long as they conform to SDMI guidelines.) The move should help bolster retailers' confidence that, despite a future certain to contain digital downloading, they can continue to be crucial players in selling music.

One drawback is that previous attempts at installing kiosks in music stores have recently failed to engage consumers. At the turn of the decade, IBM teamed up with Blockbuster to unveil NewLeaf Entertainment, which downloaded music onsite, but the project failed to ignite much interest. Another format was attempted by Personics, which allowed consumers to create their own mix tapes at stores. But with the record companies refusing to license their biggest hits for fear they'd hurt album sales, Personics also quickly faltered.

With heavy-hitters like Sony and EMI taking bat, however, it looks like the future of downloadable music is secure.