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Brit Awards Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 10:53 GMT
Music online: The story so far
David Bowie
David Bowie: An enthusastic promoter of the internet
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

David Bowie is a big fan of it, Creation boss Alan McGee is betting his career on it and major record companies are still scared stiff by it - but has the internet really had much impact on the music industry?

Countless pundits have strained their eyes gazing into the crystal ball to see what the web has in store for record labels, music retailers, artists and fans.
Retailers are developing websites in tandem with traditional shops
Each week brings new prophecies preaching the end of record buying as we know it.

But the rest of us have continued to stumble around record shops and tune into Top of the Pops for our musical fixes.

In the UK, where the record industry generates around 3.2 billion, the internet has made only modest inroads into the buying habits of music fans.

Forecasts that online shopping could eventually send record sales through the roof have prompted retailers large and small to establish internet sites.
Shopping on the Net: A poor second to going into a record shop?
James Convery from Reveal Records, an independent record store in Derby, says internet purchases will only ever supplement "real time" sales.

"We've sold bits and bobs via our website, but it hasn't really taken off yet," he says.

"It's just another way to reach our customers, but it won't replace walking into a shop. There's a social element to going into a record store for a browse."

Such "clicks and mortar" retailers satisfy both customers who want to rub shoulders with each other on Saturday afternoons and those who'd rather order their CDs from home and wait patiently for the postman to arrive.

Downloading tracks

While the death of the record shop is very much exaggerated, technologies such as the MP3 have made the internet an annoyance to even forward-looking retailers.

MP3 is the hi-tech equivalent of home taping. The software allows audio files to be compressed to one-twelfth of their original size, without a noticeable sacrifice of sound quality.
The Rio MP3 player: Now one of many widely available
These files can then be stored on a PC's hard drive, "burned" onto a blank CD, e-mailed to a friend, posted on a website or loaded onto a personal player.

Though illegitimate use of this technique is dwarfed by the $4.5bn (2.6bn) lost to counterfeit CDs and cassettes, it is estimated there are more than a million illegally copied tracks available for downloading on the web - without giving a cut to the lawful copyright holders.

Mike Edwards, director of operations at the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), is one of those charged with finding and closing down internet pirates.

"These sites are getting more sophisticated. Within minutes of being closed down they can shift operations to a new server or redirect users to a 'mirror' site they have established in advance," says Mr Edwards.

Legal action

In response the IFPI is beginning to take a "relatively aggressive" line, dragging pirate MP3 sites through the courts when polite calls for them to comply with copyright laws fail.

Even sites like MP3.com, which market downloads from unsigned acts, have made enemies in mainstream music industry.
No more inky fingers: The NME online
The company, whose shares hit $103 (64) each when first floated, is being sued for setting up a service allowing customers to access their own music collections from any PC in the world via MP3.com.

Despite the media chatter, little real business is done over the internet, says Andy Strickland, editor of the music website Dotmusic.

"David Bowie's very good at promoting himself as a cyber star, but even the 'internet' release of his last album wasn't quite what it was built up to be."

Opporunity knocks

Predictions the internet would revolutionise the mining of new musical talent have also to yet come true.

So far only one major UK record company has signed up a band on the strength of hearing their work via the net.

The Fighting Cocks may have been scooped up by RCA thanks to a link from the Band Register's website, but industry paper Music Week claims most A&Rs remain sceptical about internet talent spotting.

"If you have time you can find plenty of pub-rock bands and indie no-hopers," says Andy Strickland.
Dotmusic: More news, reviews and gossip
If the internet has been a hit with any link in the music chain, it is with the fans.

The net has proved an ideal tool for those seeking tour details and the ideal forum for exchanging pop gossip.

Content sites such as Dotmusic have capitalised on this thirst for news and reviews. Traditional weekly NME is expanding its own online presence, while Melody Maker will launch a site later this year.

"The traditional role of music journalists was to tell readers what to think," says Andy Strickland.

"Internet sites with audio clips allow people to make up their own mind about new releases."

But despite the popularity of fan sites and music magazine sites, the internet has not yet revolutionised the music industry as predicted.

See also:

02 Mar 00 | Business
28 Feb 00 | Entertainment
28 Feb 00 | UK Education
24 Jan 00 | Business
18 Jan 00 | Business
28 Sep 99 | Science/Nature
16 Aug 99 | Business
02 Aug 99 | Entertainment
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