updated 11:10 am EST, Mon January 17, 2011
Sony and Universal move singles up to curb piracy
Sony and Universal revealed on Monday that they will move up the releases of singles on iTunes and other stores to the same day as they first air on the radio. The approach, nicknamed "on air, on sale," will cut back on the weeks of radio-only time. Both labels hope to cut back on piracy by eliminating the window for pre-release bootlegs.
Studios agreed that the existing model, a holdover from the pre-Internet era meant to build hype, was obsolete. Customers often wanted the tracks as soon as they were available and were more likely to pirate since the track simply wasn't an option.
"What we were finding under the old system was the searches for songs on Google or iTunes were peaking two weeks before they actually became available to buy, meaning that the public was bored of -- or had already pirated -- new singles," Universal chief David Joseph said to the Guardian.
The decision was spurred in part by Sony's success with X Factor winner Matt Cardle. After putting his first single online as soon as he had won the show's contest, it sold 439,000 copies, a rarity in the industry. Newcomer Jessie J has also been one of the earliest experiments under the new terms and was fifth place on UK charts.
A wider implementation of "on air, on sale" is due in February. It's not clear if EMI and Warner would follow suit.
Studios have traditionally resisted changing their established business models and instead have usually tried to fight piracy directly, such as by suing pirates or by sometimes unsuccessful attempts to legislate their strategies through three-strike models or by making legal penalties tougher than for serious crimes. The new approach would let songs build attention while being available as soon as buyers have interest.