Online distribution may forever change the way musicians deliver their recordings. With listeners downloading one or two tracks at a time, the whole concept of the long-playing album may go the way of the eight-track tape, as artists instead deliver a few tracks per month through their record label or directly to listeners who subscribe to a service. Online pioneers like Alanis Morissette, David Bowie, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys have already entered the digital arena by making some of their songs available for downloading on MP3.com and other sites.
Few observers think major industry players will make much of their catalogue available for digital download any time soon. Record companies face a dilemma: they want to take advantage of the Internet as a delivery system, but they don't want to risk torpedoing the existing sales model, which has been highly lucrative over the years. Under Sony's Digital-On-Demand program, consumers will be able to walk into a traditional retail music store and download albums onto a CD, DVD, MiniDisc, or SDMI-compliant portable digital player. Don't doubt it: the way you purchase and listen to music is about to change radically. The only question is when. We suspect that it will happen a lot sooner than you think.