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Major music labels try to staunch drop in CD sales with new USB format singles

DailyTech reported not long ago that iTunes is now the largest music seller -- Apple announced in September that iTunes had sold 3 billion downloads since it started selling music. The massive move from hard copies of music to digital downloads has the record companies looking to sell its own digital singles.

Rather than offer the digital singles as downloads like iTunes, Universal Music announced that it would begin to release its singles on USB flash drives this month in an attempt to gain more sales volume. One reason Universal wants to stay with a physical product rather than a digital download is that the retail margins are better on physical copies of music.

The first digital tracks to be released from Universal will be from Keane on October 29 and Nicole, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls.  The USB singles will retail in the UK for about $10 USD. A CD single of the same tune retails for about $6 USD.

Universal UK’s commercial director Brian Rose told The Times Online UK that, “This is aimed at the younger, 12 to 24 year olds, who no longer believe that the CD is as cool as it used to be.” Many music fans in that age group won’t be swayed to a new digital format that is more expensive and less convenient than a digital download.

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By fishmonger12 on 10/18/2007 5:23:12 PM , Rating: 4
“This is aimed at the younger, 12 to 24 year olds, who no longer believe that the CD is as cool as it used to be.”

I'm sure it has everything to do with coolness and nothing to do with ease of use.

Billy: "Listen to this sweet tune dude!"
Bobby: "What the hell is that?"
Billy: "It's a thumb drive, don't you carry your computer around with you everywhere?"

RE: Coolness..
By Merry on 10/18/2007 5:27:04 PM , Rating: 3
To be honest, with a band like Keane i dont think coolness comes into it.....

But apart from that I still dont think its a very good idea. Its just too, well geeky.

RE: Coolness..
By Brandon Hill on 10/18/2007 5:29:24 PM , Rating: 2
Keane friggin' rocks. I first got turned on to them when I head "Everybody's Changing" on Scrubs a few years back.

I was also quite surprised that Kanye West said in a recent Rolling Stone interview that he also digs Keane... and John Mayer.

RE: Coolness..
By RjBass on 10/18/2007 6:21:09 PM , Rating: 1

Nearly every kid in my kids school has a 1gb or larger thumb drive. They don't consider it geeky, they consider those who gon't have at least 1gb or more losers.

Funny i know, but for the "i generation" it's all about technology.

RE: Coolness..
By Silver2k7 on 10/18/2007 9:01:52 PM , Rating: 3
usb flash drives are the new floppies.

what format is the music in, I would prefer it to be lossless and without drm like flac.

RE: Coolness..
By rippleyaliens on 10/18/2007 9:52:20 PM , Rating: 2
Well it is a stupid idea. I guarantee that the drives will be like 16-32mb in size. like i want to carry 10 thumb drives around. DEFEATS the purpose of having a car stereo or cd player.
ME- I would gladly pay the artist DIRECTLY for the songs i want. NOW that i would do. PAying apple $1 for a song, that i NEED to have a IPOD (comming very soon) is just insane. For artist's i would give them the $1 for the song i want no questions asked. or even the distributor (as long as i buy the song, i can atleast burn to a media, that can be played in the car or home stereo) Technology is cool and all BUT WE ALL HAVE lives. and being plugged into our PC isnt part of it. IPOD is cool, but i dont listen to that piece of junk, when i have a 2k WATT stereo in the car, and a nice surround stereo in the living room. COMPROMISE!!!!!

RE: Coolness..
By afkrotch on 10/18/07, Rating: -1
RE: Coolness..
By Spivonious on 10/19/2007 8:27:36 AM , Rating: 2
I can honestly say that I've never had a CD skip in a car player. Unless there were major scratches of course.

RE: Coolness..
By TomZ on 10/19/2007 9:21:20 AM , Rating: 2
Same here - never - not even once across all the CDs I've played and all the cars I've played them in. It's totally a non-issue.

RE: Coolness..
By jskirwin on 10/19/2007 9:43:10 AM , Rating: 2
Same here - never - not even once across all the CDs I've played and all the cars I've played them in. It's totally a non-issue.

Most of the music I listen to is not radio friendly, so I listen to CD's all the time in both of my vehicles - a 2006 Nissan and 1999 Honda. The latter's OEM stereo is an Alpine, and one of the best car stereo's I've owned.

But skipping is a major issue for me - especially in the '06 Nissan - with an sub-standard OEM stereo. I've found that Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs minimize the problem.

The biggest problem is that it's hard to resurface a scratched CD. Most OTC treatments are based on abrasives that buff out the scratches. This works for some minor scratches, but leaves deeper scratches as well as those near the center or at the edges untreated.

Resurfacing units run several hundred/thousands of dollars. I have a CD collection running close to a thousand I'd guess, nearly all of it issued by the recording labels (few CD-Rs).

I've resorted to using brass polisher to hand buff the CD's, a real PIA but the best solution I've found so far.

So while skipping may not be an issue for you guys, it's a big problem for others like me. But I grant, the whole thumb-drive thing is dumb.

RE: Coolness..
By Parhel on 10/19/2007 2:28:32 PM , Rating: 2
I have to ask . . . how do you treat your CDs? Do you regularly leave them out of their case, or set them down on the shiny side?

I have about 400 CDs, and I'm on my 5th car with a CD player, and I have never had an issue with skipping.

RE: Coolness..
By murphyslabrat on 10/18/2007 5:30:23 PM , Rating: 3
This could cause music player manufacturers to include USB ports on the devices. Personally, while not as widely utilized, I think that SD cards would work better. They would be a little cheaper due to the smaller shell and less metal.

RE: Coolness..
By Lonyo on 10/18/2007 5:41:44 PM , Rating: 2
People carry CD players around with them?

RE: Coolness..
By Polynikes on 10/18/2007 5:47:31 PM , Rating: 4
Then there's the other problem: Who buys singles anymore nowadays?

RE: Coolness..
By TomZ on 10/18/2007 8:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
They're much more popular in the UK than in the US.

RE: Coolness..
By afkrotch on 10/18/2007 11:30:06 PM , Rating: 4
Japanese are a good example. The way they do it, is they release nothing but singles. After time, as the single accumulate, they'll release a compilation of all the singles, with music that wasn't released as singles.

You'll normally get 4 - 5 single releases over the course of like 5 months, then the compilation cd a couple weeks after that last single they decided to release.

This usually only happens with the popular bands. So they can make more money. Singles go for around $10 - $15, while the full album goes for $30 - $40.

RE: Coolness..
By Spivonious on 10/19/2007 8:29:34 AM , Rating: 2
That's how the U.S. did it back in the 50s. An album was originally a collection of singles, contained in one album to flip through. Of course, then technology improved and you could fit more than one song per side of a record.

RE: Coolness..
By PitViper007 on 10/19/2007 8:31:26 AM , Rating: 2
They don't even sell them anymore where I'm from. I know. I have a friend that wanted this one song which had not been released yet (but I didn't know that then....). I went to FYE and asked if they had the single of the song, and the rep just looked at me then laughed. She said they haven't sold singles for years, mainly because of iTunes. I guess that shows how long it's been since I've tried to buy a CD....

RE: Coolness..
By MonkeyPaw on 10/18/2007 6:25:39 PM , Rating: 2
...don't you carry your computer around with you everywhere?

Actually, my car's aftermarket stereo has a USB port on it. I have a 2GB stick that I fill with MP3s, which gives me an easily customizable playlist and hours of non-stop music while driving. It's so simple; it really should be a standard feature in cars these days.

The problem as I see it is having a single track per stick--it's such a waste of resources. Not to mention that people will go mad trying to keep track of all those single-song sticks. Putting a whole Album on a stick wouldn't be so bad, or maybe an entire artist's library for that matter (and price it accordingly).

RE: Coolness..
By EglsFly on 10/18/2007 9:46:41 PM , Rating: 3
You go to the store to pick up a new single, and can't wait to load it up in your car and listen to it on the way home..., except that MOST vehicles do not have a USB input!!!

Sure there are some new aftermarket radios that have the input, but the millions of other cars (likely 99%)already on the road do not.

RE: Coolness..
By kingpotnoodle on 10/19/2007 5:42:27 AM , Rating: 3
Could get rid of "greatest hits" albums... and be replaced with "everything we ever made, even the crap so you have to keep pressing the skip button"...

USB music singles = WORST idea I have seen in ages, wasteful, expensive, worse than ripping a CD (I am pretty sure there will be DRM and average quality).

Now what *might* be useful is if you could plug your own multi GB thumby into a kiosk and download tracks to it for a similar price to online, could help out those who still have crappy internet connections or would rather buy in a store than online... I would still rather have the CD though unless the DRM gets stripped.

RE: Coolness..
By fibbeh on 10/19/2007 12:32:00 PM , Rating: 4
USB music singles = WORST idea I have seen in ages...

Have we already forgotten the 'ringle'?

By Kenenniah on 10/18/2007 5:42:19 PM , Rating: 5
Let's see what my legal options are....
1. I can pay $0.99 for a song online which I can then put on my own usb stick or cd.
2. I can pay $6 for a cd single that I can still rip and put on my own usb drive.
3. I can pay $10 for a single on a usb drive.
4. I can pay $10-15 for a full cd of songs, from which I can still rip songs and place on my own USB drive.

Why would I ever want to choose option 3?

RE: Hmmmm
By soydios on 10/18/2007 5:52:32 PM , Rating: 2
I really gotta wonder what genius thought this distribution method up. Probably the same one that thought suing people, even though it's a money-loser and increases the prices of music, further encouraging piracy, was a good idea.
The whole point of technology progress today is to move away from physical distribution methods towards digital over-the-internet ones. Do they want to be leading the engine of change, or get dragged along by it?

RE: Hmmmm
By mindless1 on 10/18/2007 6:04:29 PM , Rating: 2
yeah, are they on crack? The very last thing anyone's looking to do is still have to drive to the store (gas costing more than ever on average), wait in line to buy a physical product that is not easily cataloged in a music collection (there are CD racks but a thumbdrive rack? I don't think so!), have to wait till they're at their computer to play it instead of popping it into the car stereo, and for all this to pay $10 a single?

Let's not forget that a CD, if properly cared for, will last longer than a thumbdrive. I've seen claims of 10 year retention on a thumbdrive but I've quite a few > 10 yr old CDs.

It's as though they went out of their way to make it undesirable, but to target the group with the least disposible income too? IF the thumdrive is still full funtion read/write, and capacity is at least 1G (increases in the future along with flash chip density), that's the only way I see this product taking off - because you're getting the song single practically for free.

RE: Hmmmm
By ImSpartacus on 10/18/2007 6:49:20 PM , Rating: 2
I think having singles on a thumbdrive is stupid, but getting a 1 gig drive and throwing everything the artist has on it, and selling it for 50 bucks isn't bad.

I think I could see a market in that, but not in singles.

Let's see what my legal options are....
1. I can pay $0.99 for a song online which I can then put on my own usb stick or cd.
2. I can pay $6 for a cd single that I can still rip and put on my own usb drive.
3. I can pay $10 for a single on a usb drive.
4. I can pay $10-15 for a full cd of songs, from which I can still rip songs and place on my own USB drive.

Technically, ripping music from a CD, or burning a download is illegal. Just mentioning that.

So that kills everything but three... Regardless, a thumbdrive isn't much more practical than a CD if any.

RE: Hmmmm
By Silver2k7 on 10/18/2007 9:06:30 PM , Rating: 2
lossless with cd quality, takes about 500 Mb per ripped cd.
but flash memory gets cheaper all the time.

no I wouldn't feel like paying for less than cd quality.

RE: Hmmmm
By Vanilla Thunder on 10/19/2007 9:54:29 AM , Rating: 3
Technically, ripping music from a CD, or burning a download is illegal. Just mentioning that.

I don't know where you got this information, but this is extremely incorrect. You can rip any CD you want onto whatever you want, legally. You can burn downloads, provided the service you used allows it. I know albums purchased thru iTunes can be burned 3 times after downloading. It's distributing these tracks on things like P2P networks that would be illegal.


RE: Hmmmm
By ImSpartacus on 10/21/2007 9:20:50 PM , Rating: 1

Right off DT.

Pariser believes in a very broad definition of stealing that is echoed by many supporters in the RIAA. She believes that users who buy songs are entitled to one, and only one copy. Burning CDs is just another name for stealing, in her mind. "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'.

While I don't like that burning a CD with music could be defined as pirating. This isn't a an example of a law, but the laws aren't spelled out as good as they should be, and the RIAA is just interpreting them as they see fit and going for it.

Don't misunderstand me, I prefer non-DRM media, but I'm also a realist.

Universal will fail.
By JackBurton on 10/18/2007 5:59:56 PM , Rating: 2
This is the dumbest idea. Jeez. iTunes method is MUCH more practical.

RE: Universal will fail.
By ImSpartacus on 10/18/2007 6:43:19 PM , Rating: 2
I am confident that itunes still has drm's on its downloads. Aside from the proprietary format, I'd like to see you just dump those onto a thumbdrive and run off. As long as you have itunes installed at every pc you come across.

I don't think universal will be an absolute hit with this, but its just experimentation.

RE: Universal will fail.
By darkavatar on 10/18/2007 7:42:30 PM , Rating: 2
proprietary? aac/mp4 IS the next audio standard, and is ISO compliant. The fact that most DAP can't play them doesn't make it a proprietary format.

RE: Universal will fail.
By Silver2k7 on 10/18/2007 9:08:55 PM , Rating: 2
Personally I believe in better quality, we are starting to get so cheap computer storage so its time for true cd-quality lossless to become the new standard.

RE: Universal will fail.
By mindless1 on 10/18/2007 11:22:18 PM , Rating: 2
Let's hope AAC is not the next "real" standard, since the gain in quality per bitrate really isn't that high, the licensing cost is a little higher, and there are good free alternatives like OGG.

The last reason to choose something is slightly better compression. Flash density rises and thus the impact on storage capability is the least of our concerns. It would be nice if any but the very cheapest players supported AAC as well as many other formats, but a mere switch from MP3 to AAC is one of the least useful to most users.

RE: Universal will fail.
By kelmon on 10/19/2007 2:41:31 AM , Rating: 2
DRM on the download is Universal's decision, not Apple's. Since Universal seems happy to release DRM-free tracks on Amazon I see no reason why they can't do that on iTunes either apart from their desire to piss off Apple. However, this doesn't have to be about iTunes as this could equally be about Amazon or any other digital download store. Given the movement of the market, particularly the younger generation whom these USB singles are targeted at, to digital downloads what possibly makes Universal think that a USB drive is going to be attractive? It's more expensive and less practical. I thought the idea of Ringles was bad but this is even worse.

I'm confident that they will sell practically none of these things - as an idea it just doesn't make any sense at any level apart from the dreamland that these companies still seem to exist in.

computer formats suck
By GlassHouse69 on 10/19/2007 1:48:17 AM , Rating: 2
mp3, itunes, all of them suck bad compared to a regular cd audio.

of course, mp3 is the worst but many follow in its crappy footsteps.

RE: computer formats suck
By Screwballl on 10/19/2007 11:57:07 AM , Rating: 2
give FLAC a listen, you will not be able to tell the difference between that and a high definition audio CD yet the files size will allow you to fill a CD with 20-25 songs versus 8-15 in wav format.
The only problem at this time is finding media players that can use flac... once they release more in the mainstream, I suspect this will become the new format of choice for ripped tracks.

RE: computer formats suck
By Parhel on 10/19/2007 2:33:32 PM , Rating: 2
I store my music in lossless WMA format, and I believe there are several players out that can read them. That's a whole lot more likely to catch on than FLAC. I don't see an open-source format gaining any kind of industry acceptance.

FLAC, or any lossless format for that matter, will of course by definition be identical to the original CD. Unfortunately, none of the major players are using those formats it seems.

Physical units?
By wildmannz on 10/18/2007 5:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
So why would anyone buy a number of singles? e.g. If I want to buy the latest top 20 singles, why would I buy 20 devices to do it?
Far simpler and easier with the iTunes model or with their latest competitor Amazon.

I'm still embarassed that Universal is prostituting itself simply to break free of Apples platform.
The artists will not benefit from this - and Universal will probably lose more than a few along the way.

RE: Physical units?
By tdawg on 10/18/2007 6:46:00 PM , Rating: 2
Can you imagine a friend of yours telling you he's got this hot new single you just have to hear and then goes to his desk drawer, or backpack, full of thumbdrives to search for the one he wants?!

This is quite possibly the worst marketing idea ever. If the recording industry needs ever more increasing reasons why sales and profits are falling; I suggest their next target is this brilliant strategy from Universal.

With ideas like this, it's no wonder the record companies can't make any money.

And whats REALLY next?
By AlphaVirus on 10/19/2007 1:19:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ok so lets do this!
Step-by-step order.
1. Buy $6 single
Hmm, that was pretty easy. Now the only thing a thumbdrive can fit into is a...Computer!
2. Plug thumbdrive into computer
Nothing hard about that.
3. Upload song for future listening without using thumbdrive
4. RIAA busting down your door to personally hand you a lawsuit for copyright infringment.

I seriously see this is being a bad idea and another way for the RIAA to make more lawsuits.

RE: And whats REALLY next?
By Parhel on 10/19/2007 3:08:52 PM , Rating: 2
Imagine if every thumbdrive sold contained a rootkit.

Unlikely, I know, but I bet that they would include something in addition to the music file. Like some crappy media player that installed itself to catalog all of your thumbdrive purchases.

By InternetGeek on 10/18/2007 7:02:43 PM , Rating: 3
The persons who came up with this idea are actually Pirates that infiltrated the RIAA/Music Industry. They are feeding them crazy sales scheme that will slowly kill the industry, and leave only the ones that break through the old paradigms.


By SiliconAddict on 10/19/2007 1:11:59 AM , Rating: 2
There, fixed that for you.
I'm sad to say though the spirit of PT Barnum and his quote, that wasn't really from him, lives these days. There really is a sucker born every minute or every minute in 12 to 24 year spans.

Yet another dying gasp
By redbone75 on 10/19/2007 2:48:01 AM , Rating: 2
First, there came the copy protection schemes. Then came the bouts of lawsuits. Now we have singles on USB drives (quite wasteful, as a previous poster already mentioned). The major labels just can't seem to grasp that digital downloads are the future. If they spent half the resources in developing direct download stores instead of suing their own customers, they might actually SELL more cd's instead of worrying about people pirating them. That is, of course, if they don't try to charge 2 or 3 times more than what Apple or other major stores charge. If they remain competitive they could easily have a profitable business model. However, that will never happen as there are too many entities with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar that is the current record label business model. I mean, there might actually be more money to go towards the artists <gasp>.

By robinthakur on 10/19/2007 5:18:28 AM , Rating: 2
This is utterly nutty, who on earth would buy this? Not only do I object to the waste of resources of this idea, it just serves to make music buying more inconvenient for people and not easier!! The whole point of why people download/rip/copy to other formats is because its easier for them to do it. Its also easier not to pay for the music as its far quicker to find whatever I want within, say 2 minutes, and download it within (max) 10 minutes, copy it to whatever device I want and pay nothing for it. No usage restrictions. Until these companies can come up with a solution to this problem of ease of use and freedom of choice, NOBODY will buy it.

The only people that still buy CD's or physical formats in general, are those that can't work out the technicalities of downloading (and probably don't own an iPod or nearest equivalent), for some reason want the cd packaging or those purists who value the quality of the sound and are able to discern the difference (this is not a large number of people) Its these people who are currently carrying the recording industry and once that dries up, its curtains for them.

I for one know absolutely nobody, not family friends or acquaintances, co-workers etc, who pays for music. Says it all really. Whilst I don't think the industry should give up, they need to work more on the software industry, to act en-masse to stop people being able to import non-drm'ed mp3 music into things like iTunes or Windows Media Player. This is not in my personal interests because it restricts my freedom and I'll just use whatever method is most convenient, cost is irrelevent;so I'm not in favour of that. The only medium which I buy is HD DVD and Bluray because you can't easily acquire it otherwise. Says it all really...What I believe will increasingly happen with major artists is that they will not renew their recording contracts with the big archaic labels and instead join labels with more flexible and innovative marketing and channels and allow people to buy the music directly from their own websites. Madonna and Prince are a recent case in point and the latter makes more money now than he did in his heyday in the 80's through touring and getting a greater chunk of the profits than before. Once more artists see this, they will act, its only a matter of time and at the end of the day, everyone's ultimately selfish...users and artists.

Universally Stupid
By lumbergeek on 10/19/2007 11:19:17 AM , Rating: 2
For most of the reasons already mentioned by my cohorts here.

If these ever see the light of day
By Parhel on 10/19/2007 3:19:02 PM , Rating: 2
If these ever see the light of day, I'm going to go right to the store and buy one. I don't even care what the song is. Then, 30 years from now, I'll have an antique - one of the few ever sold from this new, soon-to-be-failed, media format.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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