- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Winning "American Idol" was one thing. Now, Kelly Clarkson faces a really tough task: saving the single, an all-but-dead product in the music industry.
Today, RCA Records will release a CD single of "A Moment Like This" and "Before Your Love," the songs that helped Miss Clarkson clinch her victory on "American Idol," the popular talent contest that aired on television this summer.
Miss Clarkson's single called a double A-side because it features two songs that RCA will promote at the same time will cost about $4.50 in stores. It is the most eagerly awaited single since Elton John's tribute to Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind 1997," sold 35 million copies worldwide, becoming the most popular single of all time.
Record companies have largely stopped producing singles because they believe they hurt album sales. The labels say music fans won't buy an album if they can purchase their favorite songs as singles, but consumers argue singles help them decide if they want to invest in the album.
Retailers also mourn the death of the single, saying it robs them of a vehicle to "train" young consumers to visit a store to purchase music.
"It's become a vicious cycle," said Silvio Pietroluongo, manager of the singles chart for Billboard, the music industry's leading trade publication.
RCA is rushing Miss Clarkson's single into stores because her album will not be ready until late November, and the company wants to capitalize quickly on the success of the "American Idol" television show, which concluded Sept. 4.
Few analysts believe Miss Clarkson alone can save the single, but most think sales of her single won't cannibalize her album's sales.
The music industry sold 2.2 million CD singles during the first six months of 2002, an 81.2 percent drop from the 11.7 million sold during the first half of 2001, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) trade group.
It is a dramatic shift from the 1950s and 1960s, when record labels used singles then sold as 45 RPM records to test the public's interest in artists who were new at the time, such as Elvis Presley.
Sales for all music have been sluggish in recent years, but no single has gone platinum since 2000. The RIAA gives the platinum certification to songs when 1 million copies have been shipped to retailers.
Record companies have not issued singles for several of the top songs on the most recent Billboard Hot 100 list, a weekly ranking of the nation's most popular songs, based on airplay and retail sales.
Music fans who want to own last week's No. 1 song, "Dilemma" a duet by rapper Nelly and singer Kelly Rowland, will have to purchase his album, which costs about $15.
The dearth of singles frustrates fans. Cleveland Park resident Andrew Huddleston said many of his favorite songs are unavailable as singles, such as "Complicated" by newcomer Avril Lavigne.
"I like her song, but I'm not willing to put down $15 to get the whole album. She's a new artist, and I don't know enough about her to commit to buying the whole album," Mr. Huddleston said.
Some frustrated fans order American singles from the United Kingdom, where singles still thrive.
Others illegally download their favorite songs off the Internet.
Online piracy is one reason the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, a trade group for record stores, is leading a charge to bring singles back.
"The truth is that today it's easier for music fans to find a favorite song for free on the Internet than it is to buy it in a store," wrote Pamela Horovitz, the association's president, in an April letter to record companies.
Some labels are quietly testing singles from top artists in three cities Boston, Detroit and Houston to determine how they affect album sales.
Early evidence suggests the effect is minimal, according to Jim Urie, president of Universal Music & Video Inc., a top distributor of albums.
"The retailers have a pretty good argument: A kid who walks into a music store with only $10 in their pocket has a difficult time finding something they can afford," Mr. Urie said.


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