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EMI digital music service to debut next week

100 albums, 200 singles on offer

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EMI, one of the world's 'big five' record labels, will next week release 100 albums and 200 singles as digital downloads to be sold through online music retailers.

EMI announced its service back in April. At the time, it said it would offer the tracks in Microsoft's MediaPlayer format and Liquid Audio's secure MP3-based format. Albums will be priced to match their CD equivalents.

It also said the service would go live on 1 July, so it's only 18 days' late - it will now go live next Tuesday, according to EMI officials cited by the San Jose Mercury (SJM).

Albums on offer include Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Frank Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers, Blondie's Parallel Lines and tracks from the Spice Girls, Megadeth, NWA and a host of others. EMI admits the selection isn't exhaustive - it's really just dipping its toe in the online ocean - but it does make a change from the usual rosters of unknowns offered by most Net-based music companies to date.

"We want to learn what the consumers want, how they find the user experience,'' an EMI spokeswoman told the SJM, echoing EMI CEO Ken Berry's comment last April that "digital delivery will eventually become part of our standard release pattern".

In any case, the size of the downloadable tracks and the consequent time it takes to pull them down to a PC will ensure that the digital market is some way off the big time. But the major labels need to be ready for emerging broadband Net connection technologies. Sony has already pulled its Sony Music Entertainment subsidiary - the record label formerly known as CBS - into a Sony Broadband umbrella operation.

Like fellow 'big fiver' BMG, EMI will offer its music not direct but through e-tailers, essentially bringing its traditional sales channel to the online world. Certainly the majors need to keep their High Street outlets happy while they remain their biggest customers. That's unlikely to change for the foreseeable future - even the most enthusiastic market projections put online sales way behind CD purchases.

BMG's service is due to go live later this summer. ®

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