Raiding the vaults

U Music open for digital biz

LONDON — The international side of Universal Music Group is opening its vaults to the digital world.

Company will make available more than 100,000 out-of-print European recordings for sale exclusively as digital downloads. Plans are in the works for a similar offering from UMG in the U.S., but there is no timetable for the launch.

UMG has created the “digital archaeology” project to raid the deeper part of the vault over the course of several years. Move should represent a lucrative revenue source. UMGI’s extensive archives are thought to be the industry’s largest.

The first batch of 3,000 download-only songs will come from the U.K., France and Germany. Initial artists include Nirvana, Marianne Faithfull, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Fairport Convention, Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll, Jacques Brel, Nana Mouskouri, Aphrodite’s Child and Brigitte Bardot. UMG owns labels such as Interscope, Geffen, Decca, A&M, MCA, Motown and Chess.

The UMGI program, which will be open-ended, involves substantial investment on the record company’s part, particularly for the excavation and digitization of older, rare analog material.

“Over the next three to four years, we aim to reissue perhaps as many as 10,000 albums for downloading, which amounts to more than 100,000 tracks,” said Barney Wragg, senior veep of UMGI’s eLabs division. “This program will offer material that, in some cases, goes back to the early days of recorded music.”

The tracks will be supplied to all of Universal’s online business partners around the world, with the first batch expected to be on sale to consumers in mid-February. Full albums will be priced at about E6.99 ($8.44). Individual tracks will also be available. Pricing will depend on the individual online store.

UMGI digitized its active European catalog in 2004, making 300,000 tracks available.

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