EMI Finally Puts Up

With Napster as the little red devil with a pitchfork prodding them on, the third-largest record company in the world, EMI, making good on its earlier announcement, last week became the first major label to begin releasing music online. In a move the company hopes will silence the critics who say that Napster has become successful because the big labels have provided no Web-based alternatives, EMI put over 100 albums and 40 singles online "through all the normal retail websites."

The list of albums released for download features major releases from several musical genres, including Pink Floyd, Everclear, Bonnie Raitt, Snoop Dogg, Frank Sinatra, and the Spice Girls. EMI considers these first Web releases to be just an experiment; notably missing are some of the label's biggest acts, including the Beatles.

However, EMI's Richard Cottrell points out that "EMI is the first major record label to release this volume of songs for digital download into the retail channel. Digital delivery will eventually become part of our standard release pattern, and we are committed to making high-quality music available to the consumer in a wide variety of media."

EMI, which is also attempting a merger with Warner Bros., says that it anticipates that pricing for the online music will be similar to CD prices, but that each retailer can set its own fees. The company states that it is releasing its catalog initially in the secure Windows Media and Liquid Audio formats.

Liquid Audio claims that, using the company's Liquid Player software, both Macintosh and PC users can stream, download, and play back music, burn custom CDs, and export their music to portable music devices, including current models from Sony, Sanyo, and Toshiba. According to the company, a consumer will be able to burn a downloaded song to a CD twice, or to a portable digital recorder up to three times, for infinite listening use. Liquid adds that, to protect online content, their system includes digital rights management, territory restriction, and security capabilities.