Another false dawn, or is the face of music retail really about to change for good? Recent news that Capital Radio, Tower Records and publishing giant Bertelsmann are gearing up to either establish or expand online music sales suggest a sea change in attitude is imminent.
Until now, the music industry has been bemoaning what it perceives as the threat of the Internet.
While a few enlightened individuals have viewed the Internet as a potent new territory, the majority of players only see problems.
These are problems of colliding release schedules, international pricing policy, and the horror of losing ultimate control over when the public gets their hands on the precious product.
But the log-jam of objectors is beginning to clear. And ironically it’s the likes of Sony – which recently rapped Creation Records on the knuckles for toying with the idea of global Internet sales – that are forging ahead with change.
Sony has always been ahead of the pack when it comes to seeing the point of any new technological drive.
This is amply illustrated by its urge to “build more music Websites”, the instruction sent down from the highest levels of the UK organisation.
Sony built many of those music Websites. Already, it is using these sites to promote online sales of Mini Disc, and Mini Disc sales must ultimately be followed by CD sales.
But despite the temptation to enter into this 24-hour global free market, relationships with local retailers still need to be protected.
To avoid causing offence, the majors have been looking at alliances with third-party distributors and fulfilment houses. This is already common-place in the US, with many major labels aligned to online vendors CD Now and Music Boulevard.
Over here, Sony has chosen IMVS to distribute its wares. So if traditional retailers kick up a fuss, Sony can hold its hands up in the air and say “not me guv! IMVS is doing the selling”.
Where Sony goes, other majors are bound to follow.
Whatever you hear about the problems of copyright piracy, and geographically conflicting distribution deals, CDs will be commonly available from artists’ Websites as well as online record stores within two years. That’s a promise.