01 September 1997

BAD NEWS for music retailers [and postal services] the world over! In a move that could revolutionise the UK's £3,380m recorded music industry, AOL this month (October) started to download music direct to a mass market via PCs. There is nothing new about music sales online - several companies already offer the service nationally and internationally - but to date only the ordering and payment functions have been transacted online. Delivery is via good old-fashioned post. Now AOL delivers the product electronically as well, courtesy of new technology called Liquid Audio. This enables AOL members to download CD-quality audio computer files directly to their PC's from AOL's music site, The Hub. These are encrypted so that only customers with a unique ‘music password' can unscramble the sounds. The technique also guards against audio piracy by threading the music with a digital ‘watermark' which reveals the identity of the original purchaser. AOL, together with its latest acquisition CompuServe [this issue, page 109], can deliver music across Europe and the US to no fewer than 11.6m potential customers - a market which is forecast to grow exponentially over the next five years!