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NARM Offers Look Into In-Store Download Future

25 Aug, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

I have to admit, at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers confab this year, my interest, as a consumer, was very much piqued by the in-store kiosk concept.

Members of NARM's media-on-demand task force have a lot of ideas for record labels on ways to maximize the sales potential of these interactive sales boxes.

They have ideas like a coupon offer for a free or discounted download of a live concert CD for a touring band with the purchase of that band's newest album or an “if you like this, you might like this too” buy-one-get-one-free type bargain that not only boosts sales, but helps music lovers discover new groups. These are just two of many ideas NARM's task force has for incorporating the kiosk customer into the store experience and keeping physical product sales in the mix.

One thing I would like to see is some kind of a bargain for people who want to purchase the physical disc of an album and that same album for digital download. There are some albums I want and buy digitally, some I want the actual plastic of and some I want in both formats. If the price was right, say around $22 for the set, I might make that drive to a store I knew could provide it, rather than downloading directly to my iPod.

It occurred to me at NARM that this group is laying a lot of groundwork for the future of our industry. As portable video devices proliferate and sport more space to store files, downloadable video product could well become a very viable part of the consumer's legally acquired entertainment goods.

Speaking of portable devices, the coolest thing about the kiosk business to me is the machines that offer a USB port right into your digital music player. I would use that a lot if it were widely available because as much as I love my digital music, I also love that music-shopping experience, going to the store, hearing what's playing. For me, it's the best of both worlds.

Problem is, I'm an iPod kind of girl, and a lot of these kiosk companies are not going to be compatible with iPod for the major music because Apple is not sharing its DRM for the MP3 format. It's understandable that the major labels don't want to put out digital downloads in an unprotectable format, but it's frustrating for the iPod consumer. Whatever format you prefer/own, you have to admit that it is the iPod — its branding, its advertising, its marketing message that has made the burgeoning digital music market as cool as it is today.

It's also understandable that Apple wants its iPod consumers to buy from iTunes, but Apple's proprietary attitude is really kind of thumbing its nose at those music lovers who bought into the company's message — and that's sad.

Regardless, labels and consumers are still clinging to the CD. That's obvious considering the number of CD releases continues to increase year over year and that ripping and burning of physical media is much more of a threat to the music industry right now that illegal digital downloads.

What kiosks can do is help make the CD exciting again. They can serve as a little oasis of discovery for music fans — an oasis that gives them a change of scenery from their computer screens and gets them out participating in retail. And that's a good thing for the whole packaged-goods business.

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