Music kiosks to aid digital revolution

Liquid Audio will speed UK adoption of digital music

Consumers will be given an alternative method for purchasing music when Liquid Audio rolls out its digital music kiosks this spring. Industry and analysts believe that the arrival of this new channel could speed the UK's adoption of digital music.

Installed in TopShop's flagship store on London's Oxford Street, the kiosks will offer customers the ability to browse, listen to tracks and burn custom CDs for around £12. The kiosks will hold up to 500 tracks, which will be changed every three weeks.

Industry experts predict that digital kiosks will bridge the gap between conventional and digital distribution, as well as reassure consumers, and the record industry, of the benefits of the new technology. "We're looking at a gateway to the new formats," said Martin Brass, director of new media at the Media Research Information Bureau. "We're going to be seeing a lot more of these."

One of the biggest advantages for record labels in this new distribution method is that they are able to target their artists at a very specific demographic. TopShop's target customer -- fashion conscious 16- to 24-year-old females -- is very attractive to record companies.

Fiona Ryder, chief executive of Cube -- a firm responsible for sourcing content for the system -- said that although there was some initial reluctance from the record industry, the Top Shop project proved irresistible. "We found that the number of record industry players lining up to offer us content speaks volumes about the future [of digital kiosks]," she said.

Although TopShop will be providing a very narrow band of pop music, the kiosks will enable artists and labels to target specific types of music fan. Jon Davis, founder of the UK's foremost dance music download site, Crunch, says that it would not be inconceivable for the company to place Crunch-branded booths in retail outlets such as French Connection or the Covent Garden clothes shop, Duffer of St George.

The often intimidating nature of specialist dance music shops means that digital kiosks could also offer an added advantage by "letting people explore and find out about music who don't normally go into record shops," said Davis.

However, the traditional high street retail outlet, which has been increasingly rattled by the arrival of digital music of late, is wary of installing such kiosks. Virgin has recently completed trials of similar kiosks in its US megastores, but has announced no plans for any further rollout. According to a spokesman, Virgin is looking to its Web site to do the business with music content. "There is no point spending thousands of pounds rolling this out when we’re launching a Web site that will do basically the same thing," he said.

HMV currently has no plans to even trial kiosks, preferring to keep an open mind on the future of digital music. "It is far from certain what mechanism customers will use to purchase music," said a spokesman.

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