San Jose Mercury News
Published Saturday, August 14, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News
Now you can download 'Bliss' for $1.99
Atlantic Records goes digital with hit single by Tori Amos
BY DEBORAH KONG
Mercury News Staff Writer
Atlantic Records began selling a digitally downloadable single from platinum artist Tori Amos over the Internet on Friday, marking the entry of the major record labels into the online digital music market.
"Bliss," the first single from the alternative rock artist's new album "to venus and back," began selling for $1.99 at sites such as SamGoody.com and Atomicpop.com. The album will go on sale in stores next month.
Consumers who want to listen to the song first have to download Liquid Audio or Windows Media Player software, allowing them to play the song on their computers. They can then download the digital music file from Web sites, paying for it with a credit card.
The announcement marks the first time one of the five major record labels has made music widely available for sale over the Internet via digital download from dozens of sites. Duran Duran was the first to sell a single for digital download on the Capitol Records site in 1997 for $1.99.
While the online world has exploded with independent artists offering songs using MP3, a technology that compresses audio files so they can be downloaded, stored and then played on a computer or a portable device, music by major artists has generally not been available.
That's because major record labels have been wary of the ease with which fans could send digital sound files easily over the Internet without restrictions on copying or distribution. Despite the fact that CD sales reached an all-time high last year, most of the labels have taken a cautious approach to online music, mostly using the Internet to drive traffic to brick-and-mortar stores or to sell CDs and cassettes.
Until now, digital music tracks by a few major artists were given away as part of promotions. But Atlantic's move to sell the Tori Amos single through a secure digital download method on 42 sites signals a shift from using the Web as primarily a promotional vehicle to a commerce channel.
"The time has clearly arrived for online downloads to become another readily available retail format, alongside the familiar CD, cassette, and vinyl," Atlantic Group Co-Chairman Val Azzoli said in a statement Friday. "With the for-sale download release of 'Bliss,' we are taking another major step in the rapid development of secure digital music distribution."
Sean Garrett of San Francisco-based Listen.com, a directory that indexes legal downloadable music on the Internet, said Atlantic's announcement points to the trend of the major record labels "dipping their toes into the digital distribution market."
"They're all moving that way. It also points to the fact there are no firm rules on how to do this. It's very much an experimental phase," Garrett said. "Everyone is going to be trying everything from paid to free to B sides. Ultimately the consumer will decide what best works for them."
EMI, for example plans to being offering digital downloads in the fourth quarter. Jay Samit, EMI's senior vice president of new media, said the company is working with traditional music stores as well as online retailers.
"At the end of the day, what we all want to know is how consumers would best like to enjoy their music, and I think the jury's out," Samit said. "It's up to us to offer consumers a lot of different choices and see what works for them."
Sony Music Entertainment this spring announced that it plans to make music from its artists available for paid digital download later this summer.
Universal Music Group and BMG Entertainment this spring jointly launched getmusic.com (www.getmusic.com), an e-commerce site that sells CDs and cassettes and directs customers to nearby retail stores. The companies also operate online communities, Web sites that focus on hip-hop, alternative music, country music and rock. The sites provide interviews, audio and video clips and other information about BMG and Universal artists.
The recording industry has also been involved in the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a format designed to prevent pirating of music sold on the Web. Companies such as Redwood City-based Liquid Audio offer secure digital downloads that embed a digital serial number in the audio file and ensure that only the original purchaser can play the music.
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