Digital Downloading in 2004

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Digital Downloading

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

For the last half-century, major record labels have kept their business alliances close to the vest. The music business has rarely sought outside expertise.

But all that has changed dramatically with Internet digital downloading. With technology running away with time, record labels have been forced to develop partnerships with tech companies in record numbers. These partnerships have not been easy to develop.

The last time labels seriously partnered with outside interests was when MTV came onboard in the mid-80-s. That association, while fruitful in the short term, has proven to be less attractive over time.

When it came to digital downloading, labels were cautious. They were fearful of giving their recordable assets to anyone but a trustworthy partner. But no one accurately calculated how quickly music consumers would integrate downloading into their lifestyle. As labels waited to sort out their next move, peer to peer illegal networks grew from nowhere, facilitating millions of illegal downloads from potential music consumers. The labels watched in horror.

When iTunes came on board in April 2003, the game changed radically. It was Steven Jobs who unified the digital divide by getting each of the major labels to give him key artist rights to download. In typical Macintosh fashion, I tunes presented a very user friendly, non-traditional way to download tracks with an outstanding marketing campaign to back it up. Within a week of its launch, 1 million downloaded sales were recorded from iTunes.

It-s now 2004. Legal downloading is hotter than ever and everyone wants to get in the pool. With such demand, all the major labels have loosen up access to their digital rights. For the first time in a very long time, the music business is engaged financially in different strategic partnerships with many associations.

Here-s where each of the major music download sites stand right now: