50 Cent and Kanye West: The Back-to-School Frenzy

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

For decades, the record industry has counted the period between Thanksgiving and New Years, the week before Valentine's Day and the September "back to school" frenzy as the best time frames for sales.

So it should come as no surprise that all the major labels are releasing superstar product right now. But none capture the kind of Barnum & Bailey circus antics as the launch of the Kanye West and 50 Cent albums.

Both rappers have their new CD's in-store this week and are fighting for market dominance. They're even featured in a face-off on the cover of Rolling Stone. For 50 Cent, there's additional pressure. He's vowed to retire from rap if he can't outsell Kayne West. Perfect! It's everything the WWF loves – fierce competition, viewer interaction and lots of drama.

The real winner, is of course, the record industry. when consumers walk into stores to buy these blockbuster titles, chances are they'll buy even more music. A contrived horse race is as good as any to rally the consumer base.

In fact, there are many new initiatives to inspire music sales. EPSN is teaming up with the major labels to preview new releases during their Monday Night Football and Monday Night Countdown broadcasts. Music segments scheduled in the coming weeks include new music from the Foo Fighters, Matchbox Twenty, Kid Rock and Eddie Vedder.

Meanwhile, Universal and Sony BMG are banking on a new physical CD configuration called "The Ringle." The Ringle will feature three songs: a hit, the remix and maybe an older track, along with a ring-tone on a slip-sleeve CD. Since the digital ring-tone business is strong for hit records, Universal and Sony BMG are testing the waters for a physical ring-tone market as well. Universal has 10 Ringle titles slated for October and Sony BMG has another 50 for in November. Major stores like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and Target have all agreed to support the new configuration. They should. Brick-and-mortar retailers need the business.

The online music business is also making significant changes. Apple just announced their one-millionth sale of the iPhone in less than 75 days.

The new iPhone has built in Wifi, so last week, they announced the iTunes Wifi Music Store. With an iPhone, you can preview tracks and download them directly to your phone. And if you happen to be sipping a latte at a participating Starbucks, you can tap the Starbucks button to see what song is playing in the coffee house. Like the track? Hit another button and download it immediately.

Apple seems to be the only company that has gotten the software to hardware concept right, especially for music.

But more competition is coming. Late last month, Real Networks, MTV and Verizon announced they were combining their technologies, content and expertise to refine their music experience. The newly devised company is called Rhapsody America and they are planning to bring music across mobile phones, portable players and the PC.

Itunes and Rhapsody America are announcing new developments while Amazon.com is about to launch their own digital download store, later this month. Amazon should take the digital download business competition to a whole level.

So, the third quarter of the music business brings much change, and most of it is welcome. It will be interesting to see how all these new marketing schemes play out in time for the Holiday Season.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.