Sony shoppers create music CDs via kiosks

Sony Corp. and Digital On-Demand (DOD) recently inked a deal that will allow consumers to burn Sony-label CDs from DOD’s kiosks, beginning this fall in select retail stores.

The agreement will allow consumers to create and purchase complete CDs that might be out of stock, as well as eventually download music onto portable devices. The kiosks are based on patents that Carlsbad, Calif.-based DOD licensed from IBM Corp. as part of a failed project called New Leaf that Big Blue tried to launch with Blockbuster in 1995.

Unlike DOD, New Leaf’s plan for the technology would have allowed for the creation of compilation CDs — an idea that record labels traditionally have not liked, since it would allow customers to cherry-pick their favourite tracks rather than purchase multiple albums.

DOD’s business model made more sense to the labels — but not without some coaxing from entertainment lawyers Fred Goldring and Ken Hertz, who represent big name artists like Alanis Morissette and Will Smith, as well as technology companies like Inc.

“DOD was looking for someone to help them navigate their relationships with the labels,” said Goldring, adding that talks with other labels to license their catalogues for the kiosks are underway.

“The labels are understandably cautious about the commitment they make to some of these technology ventures.”

Goldring explained that, among other things, Sony saw the deal as an opportunity to bring the advantages of on-line purchasing to consumers who don’t have Internet connections at home and are used to buying their music in record stores.

DOD’s database of Sony’s inventory will be accessible through the kiosks via high-speed, broadband networks. And like an on-line retailer, the kiosks will allow consumers to order CDs that may not be stocked in the bins. The CDs will be sold with on-the-spot silk-screened images and laser-printed booklets that staff will insert into the CD jewel cases.

Transactions will not be handled through kiosks themselves. Rather, customers will be allowed to sample clips of songs on each CD, then push a “buy” button on the kiosk. A slip of paper containing the CD’s bar code will be issued, which the consumer can take to the retail store’s counter.

The plans for digital distribution of Sony’s catalogue onto portable devices, like the Rio, are a bit less hammered out. Currently, the label, along with the other majors, is waiting until a standard secure player architecture emerges.

Until then, it is not clear whether entire albums or single tracks will be made available for purchase and download through the kiosks. It also remains to be seen whether consumers technologically savvy enough to have a portable digital device would want to drive to a record store to buy and record music they could get through their home PCs.