Thursday, June 10, 1999 12:41 PM EDT

Sony To Ship Music On Demand

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Sony Music Entertainment plans to make more than 4,000 albums from its catalogs available on demand by storing them on computers and sending them directly to stores via a high-speed computer network.

The deal announced Wednesday with the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Digital On-Demand means record stores can install kiosks where customers can select their albums, pay for them at the register and have their CD made while they wait, complete with liner notes and original artwork.

``This really gives the consumer access to product that wasn't there before,'' said Sony spokesman Danny Yarbrough.

The back-catalog access provided by Sony includes material that may not sell enough copies to merit store space, which previously would have forced customers to make a special order.

Customers would be able to receive the music in a variety of formats, including CD, DVD, and MiniDisc, or have it installed directly onto a digital music player. Sony will only offer full-length albums, and not singles, as the service first rolls out.

Artwork and liner notes for the music printed out on a laser printer will also be available for purchase.

The service will be tested beginning Sept. 1 at select Transworld and Virgin Megastores in Los Angeles and New York City.

Bookstores are taking notice of new technology that will allow them to provide books on demand. Sprout Inc. of Atlanta will provide Borders Group Inc., which owns the second-largest bookstore chain, with books in digital form that it licenses from publishers.

Other bookstores are considering the technology as well, seeing it as another way to broaden their appeal to readers.

Mashal Hoda, 18, who was shopping through San Francisco's Virgin Megastore for a new CD by Detroit rap artists Insane Clown Posse, though having music on demand sounded like a good idea.

``No one likes waiting,'' Hoda said as she browsed through CDs.

She said she would probably use the service if it offered individual songs as well as full-length albums.

While the fast and easy digital access may be music to the ears of consumers, some industry analysts cautioned that Sony must overcome a few obstacles.

Forrester Research analyst Mark Hardie said the diminished laser printer quality of photos and art that accompany the music may work against an increasingly visual consumer.

``Teen girls are not going to buy generic packages around an artist whose image is everything,'' Hardie said.

He also predicted that digital access would eventually fail unless artists from all labels could be marketed through one channel.

``People want artists, not labels,'' Hardie said.

The stores will get the equipment to manufacture the CDs free of charge, paying only a fee to the partnered companies on a per-download basis.



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