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EMI to offer singles for download

EMI Recorded Music is the latest major music label to lay the framework for selling singles online or through kiosks in retail outlets such as Virgin Megastores.

LOS ANGELES--The music industry is getting ready to revive the heyday of the single--at least digitally.

Responding to the wave of free music tracks available on the Net and the growing gamut of devices that play digital music, many in the recording industry's old guard are laying the framework for selling singles online or through kiosks in retail outlets such as Virgin Megastores.

EMI Recorded Music is the latest to make this commitment. The industry has been hesitant to return to singles because the margins are so small. But with downloads the packaging costs are eliminated, so distribution of singles may be more feasible.

Building off its agreements with Liquid Audio and Microsoft to create digital copies of artists' music, EMI senior vice president Jay Samit said the company plans to start selling singles through retail stores, allowing consumers to download tracks to play via their PCs, handheld digital music players and eventually car stereos.

Samit made the remarks during his keynote speech at Webnoize 1999, where music and Net company executives are meeting to discuss the Net's effect on the recording industry, as well as how to capitalize on the digital music wave.

"E-tail or physical retail--it makes no difference to us," Samit said in reference to the plan.

The world's third-largest music company, EMI oversees labels such as Capitol, Virgin and Blue Note and owns rights to songs by artists from the Beastie Boys to country singer Garth Brooks.

In addition to selling singles for an undetermined price, although the cost rumored at Webnoize was around $2 per song, EMI is expected to license out entire digital albums to stores, which could cost the same as CDs--about $15.

Other "Big Five" record companies already are spearheading the sale of digital downloads. Sony Music began offering its music for download at brick-and-mortar stores through a deal with kiosk maker Digital On-Demand's Red Dot Network. And Warner Music Group is working with RealNetworks to provide songs for download from popular artists, such as Jewel, through the Trans World Entertainment e-commerce site, which charges $1 per song.

The push to offer digital singles is no doubt intensified by the rash of sites offering free tracks in MP3 and other audio formats, but the drive also may be a reflection of the albums being released by the industry, Samit indicated.

"There are sacred albums. There also (are cases)--and I don't know how it happens--when an album comes out and it has one good song on it and some other stuff," he said. "Consumers said they want a bunch of singles--and we're listening."