Bowie's hours . . . to be First Full Album on Net

Beginning September 21, more than 50 music retailers will offer David Bowie's new album, hours . . ., as a digital download from their websites. Other companies have released promotional singles, but the event will be the first time an entire album has been offered by a record company over the Internet. The Internet release will run about two weeks, leading up to the October 5 debut of the album in stores. Bowie was one of the first major recording artists to venture onto the Internet, with his 1997 single, "Telling Lies."

EMI Group PLC has arranged the release through its Virgin Records America unit. Jay Samit, EMI's senior VP for new technology, characterized the launch of hours . . . as "an experiment" to see how well the retailers have built their sites and to see how product "goes through the pipeline." The cost for the download will be approximately the same as for the physical disc, according to Mark Hardie of Forrester Research. The downloadable version of Bowie's new album will feature a bonus track not included on the CD.

Consumers will be able to retrieve the music using Microsoft's Windows Media or Liquid Audio software, both of which are compliant with the Secure Digital Music Initiative's standards for copyright protection. The Internet debut of hours . . . is both a promotional stunt and a harbinger of a new trend in the distribution of recorded music. Microsoft and Liquid Audio have both committed to making customer-service technicians available during the promotion.

"David Bowie is one of the most technologically well-informed and culturally progressive artists in the world," said Virgin Music Group Worldwide vice chairman Nancy Berry. "It is only natural that he be the first musician to bring his art to his fans in this manner. We are very excited to be part of this development in new music distribution with David." Ms. Berry made it clear that her company isn't making a commitment to downloadable music at this time. "Although this process is not necessarily indicative of how Virgin Records America will conduct business in the future," she said, "we are excited to be pioneering this approach."

Bowie himself has long been one of the most technologically advanced musicians in the world. His website, BowieNet, was a 1999 nominee for Wired's Best Entertainment Site of the Year.