Catchy singles reach radio as much as eight weeks before the full-length CD’s they are on land in stores, but even customers willing to pay for legal downloads have been forced to wait until a day – or at most a week – before the CD’s release date. Music companies feared that issuing the songs any earlier could fuel piracy, upset traditional marketing plans and anger brick-and-mortar retailers.
But in the last six months, recording companies have had a change of heart. Songs are now routinely released for sale by download through iTunes, Napster, RealRhapsody and other services on the same day those tracks hit radio.
Companies now largely agree that the early releases, rather than encouraging piracy and hurting sales, combat file-swapping by offering fans a way to obtain songs legally as soon as they turn up on the airwaves.
[…] “It seemed silly not to give listeners the opportunity to purchase, and for them only to have an opportunity to steal,” said Amanda Marks, senior vice president of eLabs at Universal Music Group. Protests from retailers about early downloads have been minimal, she said, in part because some major outlets, like Tower Records, FYE and Wal-Mart, have their own download stores.
[…] A growing singles market represents an opportunity for labels not just to capture lost sales, but also to gauge fan interest in coming recordings. Record companies in the 1950’s and 1960’s tested the waters for new artists by first issuing singles to decide if an album was warranted, Mr. Mayfield said. As the market for downloading grows, data from early downloads are expected to play a similar strategic role for modern labels.
“We know exactly who’s buying what, when and at what frequency,” said Micah McKinney, a senior director for content programming for the Napster download store operated by Roxio. “All that data is very valuable for them developing their marketing plans and initiatives.”