This is not a one-off project that is consigned to the schedules of EMIís new media division. Make no mistake, this is EMI taking the first step towards a fundamental restructuring of their whole product proposition. The aim is to make the digital aspect a standard format alongside CD, DVD, tape and vinyl. Approximately 80 percent of the catalogue has already been set aside and the vast majority of new releases will also be made available for digital release. Digital downloads will not only sit alongside traditional format releases but will actually often appear ahead of schedule and even radio play. 50 new tracks are already available ahead of traditional release.

EMI are doing everything to ensure that the digital format becomes not only an entirely complimentary product format but also a unique one that can perform distinct promotional roles and appeal to distinct market segments. Though the pricing may be too high to attract users of illegal file sharing networks, it is highly competitive with high street stores. Ultimately, the pricing will have to evolve in response to consumer demand and adoption.

EMIís offering may appear superficially like Appleís recently announced service, in that it is an a la carte offering. But the similarity is misleading. Apple are building a stand alone music service. EMI are trying to establish digital downloads as a music format, i.e. the actual foundations which are required before the subscription versus a la carte debate can even truly take place. The Internet is based upon choice and diversity. Digital music services will evolve to represent this and will be built around distinct consumer segments (see our latest European Online Music Consumer Survey Report) and a la carte and subscriptions will both be part of the bigger picture. But that debate doesnít apply here: EMI are providing the building blocks which will help establish digital music as a music format and paid commodity.

One final important aspect of this initiative is that EMI have explicitly launched this service via a wide range of retail and distribution partners, with more to be announced. This was partly forced upon them by a lack of media giant parent company but also by a recognition that music fans are label agnostic and do not have established relationships with them. EMI are smart enough to accept that third party distributors with established brands and users bases are the best route to market.

If the other majors were to follow suit with equally comprehensive offerings then Europe would undoubtedly leave the US online music market trailing in its wake. Even without them, EMI have set the tone.

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