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Sony, EMI Elaborate on Digital Plans

Sony, EMI Elaborate on Digital Plans

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.

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