Sony Music Entertainment will soon make most of its titles available via computer at music retailers, enabling customers to buy an album even if it is out of stock at the store.
The company announced yesterday that starting in September, 50 stores in the New York City and Los Angeles areas will be equipped with kiosks connected to a central computer holding about 4,000 Sony albums. Sony and Digital On-Demand, its partner in the distribution operation, are negotiating with retail outlets to have the system in place when students return to school and well before the holiday shopping season.
The downloaded albums will be priced comparably to CDs in stock.
"We expect to really expand availability of music through traditional retail by offering the deeper parts of our catalogue," said Danny Yarbrough, chairman of Sony Music Distribution.
Under the system, a customer would use the kiosk to browse Sony's available catalogue and select an album. It would then be downloaded via Digital On-Demand's high-speed data network and manufactured on the spot.
One retailing innovation of the system would enable consumers to choose the downloaded album's format. The most familiar would be the standard CD, but the album also could be produced on a Digital Video Disc (DVD) or on a MiniDisc.
Other formats can be loaded onto "portable listening devices" like the Diamond Rio audio player if they meet an industry standard for security.
The Secure Digital Music Initiative, a recording industry group that seeks to protect copyrighted songs, plans to have a standard in place this summer to govern the use of such devices, which can also be used to play music downloaded over the Internet.
Artwork for the CD would also be downloaded and printed, Sony said.
The technology for the network has been developed and will be operated by RedDotNet Inc. A subsidiary of Digital On-Demand, it will operate the network of data lines and install the machines.
This is the first time that a major record label has agreed to license its copyrighted material for computer distribution.
For the past year, the major labels have tried to determine how to best control the digital dissemination of their product, especially the increasingly popular phenomenon of transmitting compressed music files over the World Wide Web.
The labels fear that unbridled transmission of popular music over the Internet will lead to pirating of their product, and have taken steps against this.
They are also testing ways to use new Internet and computer technologies to change their manufacturing and marketing strategies and sell music directly to consumers.
Earlier this year, major record labels began a test in San Diego that allowed people to download albums directly to their home computers.
But both Sony and Digital On-Demand emphasized yesterday that they don't plan to make Sony albums available through the Internet to desktop computers. Sony does maintain a list of artists on its Web site at www.sonymusic.com and sells albums by mail from that site.