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Universal pursues digital demand via classics site

Universal pursues digital demand via classics site

By Gavin HaycockWed Jan 10, 11:45 AM ET

Universal Music, the world’s biggest music company, launched what it billed as the largest online site for classical and jazz music on Wednesday as part of a drive to exploit rising demand for digital downloads.

"We expect sales to begin with to be relatively modest, but by the third or fourth quarter of the year to be making a positive contribution to the business," said Mark Wilkinson, a marketing director for Universal’s classics and jazz division.

"I think (the market for digital downloads) can only grow, and as the Apple iPod generation grows, they start to discover the classics," he added.

Speaking at the launch of the new UK-based classical and jazz download Web site (, shortly after a live performance by Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, Wilkinson said Universal was tapping into a rich market segment.

This was due to the older generation’s relative affluence, depth of knowledge and their growing desire to update sometimes eclectic collections with new recordings or rare releases.

"Older collectors are in tune with digital technology," he said.

The site currently has more than 100,000 classical and jazz tracks and nearly 8,000 CDs. Universal expects to increase its tracks by 1,500 per month. Downloads on the site start at 79 pence each, in line with the industry norm.

The launch of Universal’s new site follows the company’s best year for classical and jazz-related sales, a trend boosted by a globally growing digital download market and retailers’ offering more music direct to customers via the Internet.

Universal is owned by French media giant Vivendi.

According to industry data collated by Universal, 60 percent of over 50-year-olds are online in the UK and 35 percent of those have access to broadband, but the figure is rising fast.

Clare Nash, who heads the classics and jazz unit’s new media business, said the company decided to enter the market after industry research showed digital stores were not providing high enough quality download files and suitable search engines.

Universal is supplying music files in a Windows Media Audio format.

Universal hopes to export the model across Europe while future initiatives are expected to focus on video offerings, full-length opera and ballet downloads and making full artwork available from album sleeves.

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