Warner Music's Ambitious Download Plan

One of the industry's most ambitious digital distribution programs has been announced by Warner Music Group. In November, WMG will make more than 1000 albums and singles available as downloads through several online music retailers, using RealNetworks' RealPlayer software. Music fans in the US and Canada are the target audience for the download program, according to a September 11 press release.

The first offerings will include singles currently on the charts, plus some Internet-only cuts from groups like Barenaked Ladies, Collective Soul, Mana, Manhattan Transfer, Matchbox Twenty, and from individual performers such as Paul Simon and Olga Tanon. Shortly after the launch of the service, WMG will expand the number of artists offered, among them Tori Amos, Björk, Phil Collins, Depeche Mode, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Madonna, R.E.M., and Neil Young. The downloads will be drawn from many WMG labels, including Atlantic, Elektra, London-Sire, Rhino, and Warner Bros. Records.

WMG has been working closely with RealNetworks to create a "platform-neutral infrastructure . . . that will support several popular playback formats endorsed by the music industry," the announcement stated. RealNetworks will provide digital distribution services including content preparation, hosting, and delivery, digital rights management (i.e., copyright protection), billing services, and customer support. "RealNetworks already has deep and successful relationships with tens of millions of music fans," said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks. "This partnership with WMG builds on those relationships, and gives us an opportunity to help move the digital music industry forward."

Big-volume retailers such as Amazon.com and walmart.com have signed on for the program, which will be integrated into their operations by Preview Systems, a company said to provide digital distributors and retailers with a "common foundation for working with multiple codec, digital rights management (DRM), and music-player technologies."

Paul Vidich, WMG's VP for strategic planning and business development, said his company plans to offer maximum value for everyone: "As the digital music landscape continues to evolve, we remain dedicated to creating a flexible system focused on our consumers, artists, and retailers. Through our partnership with RealNetworks and the use of Preview Systems' software, we can offer consumers not only cutting-edge technology but an easy music-downloading experience."