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Artists pre-release albums on Amazon

Public Enemy, Cheap Trick, and Sarah McLachlan hope a promotion on the retailer's site will boost sales of their latest releases. Such promotions, observers say, could become a trend.

In what could become a major trend in the music industry, three top-name recording artists are pre-releasing songs and albums through Amazon.com.

Public Enemy will release its latest album, There's a Poison Goin' On, through Amazon next Tuesday, a month before its scheduled release in other stores. Likewise, Cheap Trick's Music for Hangovers, released last month, is currently available only through Amazon.

Late last month, Sarah McLachlan released two songs from her upcoming Mirrorball album in Liquid Audio format on Amazon. Customers can preorder her album, slated to be released June 15, from Amazon.

The exclusive deals seem to have paid off, at least for McLachlan. Mirrorball was the No. 1 album on Amazon in the weeks immediately following the promotion, and according to McLachlan's manager, Terry McBride, the deal also helped increase sales of her previous albums.

Entertainment analyst Mark Hardie of Forrester Research said Amazon's position as the leading Internet retailer is attracting artists who want the widest promotion for their albums. McBride said he chose to promote Mirrorball on Amazon because he wanted to reach a larger audience than other Web sites, including those run by major offline chains, could provide.

"If I go to a music site, I hit the core audience, but I don't hit anyone else," McBride said. "I want to create awareness that a new album is coming."

Likewise, Al Teller, founder and chief executive officer of Atomic Records, Public Enemy's label, said his company and Public Enemy wanted to partner with an established online retailer. Although the album is also available through Atomic Pop's Web site, they chose Amazon because the site offered a larger audience.

"We're tapping into the largest online customer base in music," Teller said.

Tracie Reed, vice president of merchandising at online music site CDnow, said that although the music site has run exclusive promotions with "developing artists," it had not featured major artists.

"I would have loved to have had them and would have done the same thing," Reed said.

Hardie said the Amazon promotions are only the beginning. Companies will soon be experimenting with a number of different types of online promotions, many of them involving digital music downloads, trying to see what will work.

"You're going to see tons more promotions," Hardie said. "They're going to be everywhere."

Among those experimenting with online promotions is Atomic Pop, which wants to be a "21st-century music company."

"We think the future of marketing and promotion, artist development and selling is going to be on the Web," Teller said. "A lot of what we are trying to do is explore what the realities and boundaries are."

Although Atomic Pop received the majority of pre-orders for the Public Enemy album, Teller said he was "very pleased" with the results from Amazon. The online pre-release of the group's new album will help offline sales, he added.

"We'll just get a very strong running start," Teller said.

Amazon spokesman Paul Capelli said another reason music companies and artists have decided to promote their albums on Amazon is because of the company's reputation for good customer service.