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IQ News: Not Available in any Store: The Cure Tries Net Sales

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By BERNHARD WARNER





With a conspicuous lack of fanfare, British rock band The Cure is using its Web site as the sole distribution point for its newest release, Five Swing Live. The Web-driven marketing and sales of the CD--bypassing the band's current label, Elektra Records--is unique, according to music and Web analysts.





Five Swing Live was made available April 21, the birthday of Cure frontman Robert Smith. Sales of the CD are intentionally limited to the first 5,000 customers. Out of the expected $75,000 in proceeds, 25% will go to the International Red Cross, said Bob Goodale, president of Natron, a New York-based Internet content publisher that specializes in music and entertainment sites. Natron developed the David Bowie site, which last year offered the first single release exclusive to the Internet.





Goodale emphasized the Web release is a test venture by The Cure done more to reward loyal fans than to determine whether the Web is a viable distribution outlet. And the tiny sales target is likely meant to keep Elektra from getting upset. Still, the Web orders should give the band insights into its fans' demographics, Goodale noted.





While major record labels all use the Web to promote their releases, the Internet is becoming an increasingly important marketing vehicle for unsigned bands. Sites like J-Bird Music and SonicNet enable Web surfers to sample the music of obscure acts.





The low household penetration of the Internet hampers its current distribution capabilities, said Mark Hardie, a senior entertainment and technology analyst for Forrester Research. Even if on-line music orders take off, it's unlikely an artist or band would break from a major label to try a record release on its own, Hardie added. Smaller record companies, however, could flourish on the Web as they add Internet fulfillment operations. The Cure CD order fulfillments are handled by Online Business, Stamford, Conn.





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