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Oasis' record label to distribute MP3 singles free via Web

Net tracks to be posted a month ahead of CD single release

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UK independent record label Creation Records has decided to begin posting its singles on its Web site a month before they reach the shops. Creation, which handles the likes of Oasis, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Bob Mould and now Ronnie Spector, will begin offering singles for download free of charge early in the new year. Not all artists' work may appear this way -- Creation can only do so provided they give their consent, presumably because the online exploitation of their music isn't part of their contracts -- but if Creation reckons it's a good idea, many of its artists will too. The singles will also be removed from the Net when the singles go on sale through traditional outlets. It appears a decidedly odd move, given the recording industry's apparent hostility to the Internet, but look a little closer and it becomes rather more canny. Creation chairman Alan McGee likens the plan to playing singles on the radio. In other words, it's a promotional gig -- you encourage people to buy albums by enticing them with some of the catchier tunes. The singles market has been shrinking for years, largely as buyers have opted for albums and as the adoption of the CD has made singles inevitably more expensive. You might have once paid around 99p for a 7in single; a CD single costs around £4 and is padded out with remixes and other stuff most buyers probably don't want. These days it's just too expensive to buy a single to see whether you might like the album -- most casual listeners will listen to Virgin FM instead. Which brings us back to McGee's comment. By putting the tracks out on the Net, he's hoping they will become widespread and those who like what they hear will pop out and buy the album on CD. That's one of the key strands of the argument MP3 proponents make when defending the digital format from the criticism of the major labels. It's not yet clear what format Creation will use for its free tracks, but MP3 has to be the most logical choice in the circumstances since this is a mass distribution exercise and not about making sales up front. It's a bold experiment, and undoubtedly one that the big labels will be watching closely, Sony Music, in particular, since it owns 49 per cent of Creation. Sony is already believed to have stamped on Creation's e-commerce attempts, now at last launched but with a ban on sales to non-UK customers. ®

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