Steve Winwood's album sales quadruple after file-sharing marketing move

New York: Solo artist and former Traffic band member Steve Winwood has seen weekly sales of his year-old album, About Time, quadruple since providing a free track to peer-to-peer [p-to-p] networks.

New York: Solo artist and former Traffic band member Steve Winwood has seen weekly sales of his year-old album, About Time, quadruple since providing a free track to peer-to-peer [p-to-p] networks.

That number comes from Mitchell Reichgut, a principal at The Jun Group, an alternative communications firm that deals with file-sharing communities that was hired by Hearst-Argyle Television, owner of 24 US TV stations, including 10 NBC affiliates, to create the program.

The Jun Group had previously promoted the company's television programs by providing clips of shows through file-sharing networks. Hearst wanted to explore the same strategy with music and hired the firm, which suggested Winwood, to provide this service for Access Hollywood. The key to the campaign is an ad in the file that sends users to Access Hollywood's website where individuals can listen to other tracks, win memorabilia, and purchase the album. In addition, Hearst is running Winwood promos on its stations in eight television markets, according to the firm's director of IR Thomas Campo

The track, a previously unreleased, eight-minute live version of "Dear Mr. Fantasy," has been downloaded 1.5 million times, according to Big Champagne p-to-p analysis and the Jun Group's tracking of server logs in discussion groups, chat rooms, and FTP servers.

Winwood has also made a video including footage of him rehearsing available to the p-to-p networks.

"Hearst is very interested in moving simply beyond broadcast through [properties like] Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS)," Jun Group principal Mitchell Reichgut said. "They're heavily involved in the web and want to provide as much value as they can to their viewers and reach them in a more interactive way."

"The sales increase is solely attributable to [the p-to-p promotion], since it's the only way [the album] is being promoted now," Reichgut said. "This is proof that the file sharing community is a very affluent, desirable market, and that [p-to-p networks] can be used to increase record sales."

Intended or not, Richard Chernela, VP Euro RSCG Magnet, said, "It obviously had a tremendous PR value and was an interesting angle."

He added: "It's news for someone that has that kind of portfolio of work to try p-to-p as a promotional tool.

Chernela handles the firm's account with Sharman Networks, the distributor of Kazaa, a file-sharing network that he said has more been downloaded more than 315 million times. Eric Garland, CEO and co-founder of p-to-p monitoring service Big Champagne, approximates that there are 60 million p-to-p users in the US and said that Kazaa commands the lion's share of that market.

"This is getting a lot of attention for Winwood and new music technology. There will be a gold rush [of noteworthy artists] doing the same and he will have been the first," said Garland, whose company was hired by Hearst to do the monitoring for the Winwood song.

Sharman Networks has attempted to work with the labels to get artists' tracks available on Kazaa as either offer licensed, authorized music for purchase or to use as promotional tool, Chernela said.

Major labels and lawyers have been resistant to such a strategy, Reichgut said, so emerging artists have typically been the only ones to embrace such an endeavor. Steve Winwood, however, released the album through his own independent label Wincraft Music, through a partnership with SCI Fidelity Records and management firm, Madison House.

Garland stresses Winwood's success does not mean that the major labels will follow the same strategy.

"The interests of an artist are very different than the interest of major label recording companies," he said.

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