Offspring's new offer: free music over Web

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Punk rock band Offspring is writing a new strategy for music marketing. It's offering free tunes -- no strings attached. In an unprecedented move, the Sony Music Entertainment band recently announced its entire new album, "Conspiracy of One," would be available free-of-charge over the Web starting Sept. 29, months before its CD is released for sale.

The album will be available at Offspring.com, MTV.com, and a number of other music Web sites. In exchange for the music, Web users will give Offspring their valuable e-mail addresses and other Web user marketing information. These users, in turn, would then be eligible to win $1 million. The winner will be announced on MTV Nov. 14, the date the album is released.

Other artists have participated in pre-release promotions before. Many have given away free singles as a marketing tease for a CD release. But never has a major recording artist given away an entire album.

"It's clever and interesting," said Jay Cooper, senior partner of entertainment law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips, Los Angeles. "This will no doubt endear Offspring to their fans."

BAND CONTROL

Offspring and its manager have said that since the music would most probably be available illegally over the Internet, the band wanted to at least control some of its own destiny, and, at the same time, grab valuable marketing information.

"It could create a buzz on the record, so more people buy it when it comes out," said Ric Rube, analyst for Webnoize, an Internet entertainment research company. "The possible disadvantage is that everybody downloads it and doesn't buy it when it comes out, or every downloads, hears it, decides it stinks."

That's what Sony Music is worried about. A Sony spokesman has responded that the marketing idea is good one, but worries that having fans take the entire album could hurt subsequent CD sales when the album is released.

Offspring is already considering offering extra incentives to those who buy the CD, such as being able to join a club in which they might get a new track from the band every month.

FIGHTING NAPSTER

The issue of the illegal downloading of music on the Internet has been a lightning rod for the entire music industry for the better part of two years. The Recording Industry Association of America is in throes of a highly public lawsuit with Napster, a major Net music sharing site.

One veteran music marketing executive said artists seem to be equally split on the issue. "Some artists feel, like Picasso, their albums are their work and it shouldn't be given away for free," said the executive. "Others say giving away some free music is good for the marketing of music, creating goodwill among fans."

Other observers believe artists such as Offspring are merely coming up with marketing ideas in the absence of strategies from their own labels. "It's almost axiomatic when artists say the labels are not doing enough," said Mr. Cooper. "If they sell 10 million records, they wonder why their record labels didn't sell 20 million."

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