With so many players in the online music space, firms that now want to
start selling CDs on the Net have to fight to differentiate themselves.
Enter My CD, which is planning to launch
a service on May 1 that lets customers choose individual tracks from a
library of songs to make a customized CD.
My CD is not the first company to approach online CD sales this way,
however. SuperSonic Boom,
which launched in January 1997, offers the same service. Others include MusicMaker, Volatile Music, and CustomDisc.com.
With My CD, users can listen to 30-second samples, choose the songs they
want for a 70-minute CD, and send the information to My CD. The firm then
"burns" the CD and ships it to the user. Users also can choose cover art.
At launch, the service will have roughly 100 pieces of cover art that it
commissioned. Artists' names, liner notes, song titles, and running
times also can be printed on the inserts. Each CD costs $16.99 plus
shipping, according to Denise Shapiro, chief marketing officer for My CD.
Shapiro said the firm is planning to expand its offerings so that users
will be able to upload their own cover art and record labels will be able
to include "collateral material" such as coupons.
Although the concept makes sense, the main issue is "the depth and breadth
of the catalog these players can provide," said Patrick Keane, senior
analyst at Jupiter
Communications. "You need to have a rich catalog of music to succeed in
this space, and so far, a lot of the big record labels are averse to giving
that content out."
Shapiro said My CD pays its record label partners per song when a track is
sold. She declined to give specific figures. In addition, like SuperSonic
Boom, My CD has compliance with licensing mandates exercised by the American Society of Composers, Artists, and
Publishers (ASCAP) and BMI
built into its business model.
Although record labels could use these custom CD outlets as an additional
revenue stream, cooperating with them also means relinquishing some
all-important control over the distribution of their product. In
this day of ever-easier and wider-ranging copyright violations through pirated CDs and
1 layer 3) sites, the labels "generally have moved at a glacial pace in
moving into [the Net] space," Keane noted.
For that reason, the custom-compilation services tend to offer less
well-known bands and older or less popular selections from more famous
artists. Shapiro said My CD would carry artists such as James Brown, Frank
Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, and Aretha Franklin--along with newer
and lesser-known artists. A search on Frank Sinatra today yielded eight tracks, mostly
less-popular songs. Some of the same tracks are available on SuperSonic
Boom, along with several others. A custom CD on SuperSonic Boom also costs
$16.99 plus shipping.
The Net music retail space is a tough market on other fronts as well. With
relatively small margins for retailers and the built-in challenge of
creating brand recognition, the flood of players entering the arena have
their work cut out for them. Some of the more traditional retailers such as
CDnow and Music Boulevard have spent significant
resources in attracting customers through expensive deals with popular sites
and special offers, such as paying for shipping or give-aways with
purchase. Those deals also cut into the firms' revenues.
Record labels on board with My CD include: 32 Records, Alligator
Records, American Gramophone, Bar None, Clarity Records, Drive
Entertainment, Lyra Productions, Nine Bar Records, Qbadisc, TKO-Magnum,
and Warlock Records, the company said.