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Retail confab to debate Net music

A trade association comprised of major music stores is gathering in San Francisco to discuss the future of CD shops in the age of the Net.

A trade association comprised of music stores such as Tower Records and Best Buy is gathering Friday to shine a spotlight on the growing problems retailers face in the new world of digital music.

The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) annual convention and trade show will unfold in San Francisco in the next few days. It will feature some influential players in the ongoing online music debates: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will present a keynote Monday; other speakers and panelists include representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Microsoft and Capitol Records.

The 2002 NARM Convention & Trade Show comes as online music evolves from a free enterprise to a moneymaking industry. The recording industry has taken some aggressive steps to sell music directly over the Web, launching online subscription services such as MusicNet and Pressplay. The services are designed to let record labels offer music to consumers via the Web, prompting retailers to worry they will be left out of the distribution process.

In response, NARM has attempted to ensure its members won't be discriminated against in favor of these sites. In addition to lobbying Congress, the group filed a lawsuit in January 2000 against Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Corporation of America over online retail efforts. NARM alleged that Sony forced retailers to point its customers toward online shops by placing hyperlinks and promotions from e-commerce sites on CDs by the label's artists. NARM withdrew the case last November, citing changes in digital distribution since the case was filed.

NARM has more than 1,000 members, including retailers, wholesalers, distributors and suppliers of products and services.