High-street music stores may tune into Net music

In a move that signals a sea-change in attitude, high-street retailer HMV is considering re-jigging its Web site for wired listeners, according to the store's IT director Duncan Bell.

The music retailer has inked a deal with IBM to develop its Web site and, according to Bell, "one of the possibilities" is the downloading of online music.

The open standards technology used in the computer giant's Madison Project will be one of the technologies considered for the downloading of tracks from HMV's Web site. Madison is a joint collaboration between IBM and five major record labels to provide legal downloads of music. A trial of the technology -- which will allow whole albums to be downloaded to a PC in less than 10 minutes -- will begin in the spring.

In addition to a network of more than 100 UK stores, HMV also has a stall in the e-commerce market with HMV Direct. Acknowledging the burgeoning Net music industry, HMV CEO Alan Giles said: "The Internet represents a great opportunity for us. We want to be as successful on the Net as we are in the high street."

Bell believes it is too early to say how Internet buying and downloading of music will affect high street sales. "It is very early days. No one knows how much demand there will be. It will be another format and some customers will see it as an addition to going to stores," he added.

Another major player V2 Music, part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, is also mulling over the idea of Internet-delivered music.

V2 Music has already done a one-day trial of downloading a new Underworld track via the Net. Although the company has no plans for Net distribution in the immediate future, it is "keenly watching pilots such as Madison progress", said Ciara Gaynor, new media international marketing manager at V2 Music.

"We are not part of the Madison trial but are very much pro digital distribution when the right systems are in place for secure distribution and protection of copyright," said Gaynor.