Where is the Best Online Place to Latch On to some CDs?

In a recent bake-off, online retailer CDnow was named top music banana by the New York consulting firm eMarketer. Although placing further down the list based on price alone, CDnow gained the highest overall score in an averaging of the rankings of six criteria. Rated on a scale of 1 to 5, these were: Selection, Price, Service, Usability, Presentation, and Features.

Online music sales have certainly been a resounding success, even by frothy web standards, with about $90 million sales estimated for this year and $1.4 billion predicted for the year 2002. (See previous report.) For their survey, eMarketer evaluated over 100 music sites and noted that, at this stage, none of them has achieved market dominance. The top sites were clustered closely together in scoring, which indicates that there are several viable choices for the virtual purchase of CDs, vinyl records, or cassettes.

Regarding the winner, Jonathan Jackson, an eMarketer analyst, commented, "If there's a way to make buying music on the Internet fun and easy, CDnow has it. Selling music is one of the most mature e-commerce categories online, and CDnow clearly leads the way. There are lots of companies that may understand, in theory, how to do business on the Net, but not all of them get it. CDnow clearly gets it."

Placing second is CD Universe, noted for their comprehensive histories of most musical genres, with copious links---what the company calls its "CD University." Ranked third is Music Boulevard, who walked away with the best score for price. According to eMarketer, "Our test selections were by far the cheapest at Music Boulevard, which almost makes you wonder why online shoppers would buy them anywhere else." Where Music Boulevard comes up short is in the marketing department, and one has to wonder if trying to find the URL to their website may be a problem as well. (No, it's not www.musicboulevard.com or www.music-boulevard.com or some misspelled variant.) Also, While CDnow ads pop up incessantly around the web, Music Boulevard is rather shy by comparison.

At the other end of the marketing spectrum is well-known Amazon.com, ranked fourth, who are now into music sales in a big way. Interestingly, of the top ten picks only Tower Records was actually a music store before the Internet existed---proof that either the established brick-and-mortar players have stumbled, or an indication that the market will be heating up soon when they begin their inevitable push online. Watch also for major record labels to join the fray.

When notified of their win, CDnow President and CEO Jason Olim exclaimed, "We pride ourselves on being the innovator of online music retailing. We created online shopping by pioneering the online shopping cart, drop-shipping for Internet purchases, intelligent album recommendations, and RealAudio sound samples. CDnow is committed to finding new ways to use technology to better serve music fans."