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Universal and Sony close ‘release window’

By | Published on Monday 17 January 2011

Universal Music Group

Both Universal Music and Sony Music have this morning announced that from next month all of the their single releases in the UK will be made available via legit download stores on the same day they are serviced to radio.

As previously reported, some in the industry have long argued that a certain amount of illegal downloading of new music takes place in the weeks between first single releases from new albums appearing on radio and them then being available via legitimate download stores.

The argument goes that impatient young music fans often access new tracks from illegal sources simply because at the point they first hear a new song they can’t buy it from any licensed music services. Had the legit stores got said track, perhaps said fans would buy it from there, rather than steal it from an illegal website or file-sharing network.

Others have observed that, even if such a theory is rather optimistic (and generous to song-stealing kids), while the ‘release window’ between tracks being serviced to radio and appearing on iTunes et al exists it will give file-sharers another excuse to justify their file-sharing ways, certainly if and when the three-strikes system kicks in.

The major labels like having the release window for pop releases because it enables the traditional marketing approach of maximising first week single sales, so to achieve a high chart position, which in turn creates a buzz around the accompanying album. If records go on sale at the same time as radio play begins, sales are likely to build over two or three weeks, rather than being focused on one week, possibly meaning a lower chart position overall. Though possibly not if all record companies operate the same policy of servicing new singles to download stores at the same time as radio.

Anyway, that’s what Universal and Sony, and possibly others to follow, will now be doing. In a statement this morning, Universal Music said: “This change is a big shift from established music industry practice which has seen upfront radio play as part of the pre-promotion of a record – with songs often not released for sale for at least a month after they have first been heard on radio”.

Universal UK boss David Joseph added: “We live in an immediate world. On Air, On Sale is good news for any music fan and exciting for our artists who can now go into the studio knowing they don’t have to wait weeks or sometimes months to see the music they have created go on sale”.

Among the industry groups calling for a closure of the release window was the Music Manager’s Forum, who have welcomed Universal and Sony’s decision this morning. MMF CEO Jon Webster told CMU: “It’s great to see analogue practices finally consigned to the dustbin of history and consumers being given the instant gratification they desire. To be actively encouraging piracy in this day and age is pure folly”.

The Featured Artists Coalition also welcomed the move, saying in a statement: “We welcome the move by several of the major and independent labels to adopt same day retail and airplay single releases. This is a change we have been pushing for for several months. We believe artists will benefit from increased sales, that there will be fewer illegal downloads from fans who want to own music as soon as they hear it, and that we’ll have a more accurate chart which reflects undistorted consumer behaviour”.