by James Oliver Cury / Rolling Stone
30th August 1999
David Bowie has pulled another cyber-coup by becoming the first major-label artist to sell a complete album online in download form. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 21, fans will be able to purchase the digital files for hours… at VirginRecords.com, BowieNet (www.davidbowie.com) and at participating record-store Web sites (unspecified at press time).| More than fifty stores have signed on to offer the record for the two-week period preceding the album’s North American CD release on Oct. 5. Pricing will be left up to retailers.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to have the opportunity of moving the music industry closer to the process of making digital downloads available as the norm and not the exception,” said Bowie in a statement Monday. Bowie has long been a fan of the Internet and digital distribution. He was one of the first name-brand artists to release a single online in 1997 (the drum ‘n’ bass track “Telling Lies”), he pioneered the use of Webcasts and chats, and launched the world’s first artist-created Internet service provider in 1998 with the formation of BowieNet.
The new album will be available in two file formats, both of which comply with the record industry’s Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) specifications: Liquid Audio and Microsoft’s Windows Media. These formats allow Bowie to sell the album and enforce copyright protection, which explains why he did not opt to use the popular MP3 format. This may also limit the number of downloads since the most popular files are free.
As a result, Bowie downplayed his expectations: “We are all aware that broadband opportunities are not yet available to the overwhelming majority of people, and therefore expect the success of this experiment to be measured in hundreds and not thousands of downloads. However, just as color television broadcasts and film content on home video tapes were required first steps to cause their industries to expand consumer use, I am hopeful that this small step will lead to larger leaps by myself and others ultimately giving consumers greater choices and easier access to the music they enjoy.”
In the past, plenty of other artists have offered music online, but they have either been unsigned or signed to independent labels (like Prince, Public Enemy, Frank Black). Others have released singles, but not albums (Offspring, Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette), or offered streaming versions of music rather than downloadable files.
Bowie has been working on the album, said to be a throwback to his Hunky Dory days, for several months. Estimates of how long it might take to completely download it are not available. Our guess . . . hours.