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Entertainment, times two

Ethan Smith The Wall Street Journal

When Bruce Springsteen’s “Devils & Dust” arrives in stores next month, it will be more than just the singer-songwriter’s 19th album. It will also be a milestone for DualDisc, the music industry’s first major new physical format since the introduction of the compact disc more than 20 years ago.

The album will be the biggest title to date released exclusively as a DualDisc, which plays like a CD on one side and like a DVD on the other. The discs vary in price but generally cost around $1 more than CDs.

If it catches on, the format will make relevant again the question: “What’s on the flip side?” Virtually all DualDisc titles use the DVD side to offer a surround-sound mix of the album, plus 28 minutes or less of video footage. In addition to a surround-sound mix, “Devils & Dust” will carry video footage of Springsteen performing several songs from the disc and discussing them.

The surround sound mixes can be played on standard DVD players through the same “5.1 surround” systems that DVD home theaters use. Establishing DualDisc would be a victory for the music industry, which has in the past few years failed to get a foothold for new high-end formats like “Super Audio CD” and DVD-Audio. Both formats have been hobbled by high pricing and low penetration of the hardware to play it back. DualDisc, on the other hand, doesn’t require any new hardware equipment.

Since an initial handful of DualDisc titles were released last fall, the new format has seen some success, including “Still Not Gettin’ Any,” from the pop-punk band Simple Plan, which has sold nearly a million DualDisc copies.

Now, however, the floodgates are open. Sony BMG Music Entertainment is leading the charge. The company has released or plans to release more than 40 DualDiscs this year, from classics like Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to new releases like Jennifer Lopez’s “Rebirth.”

“The CD is a fading technology that has lost some of its appeal,” says Andrew Lack, the chief executive of Sony BMG and one of the most vocal proponents of DualDiscs. “We had to come up with a way to give consumers a compelling experience.”

Lack says he envisions a day, possibly not too far from now, when all new music releases come out on DualDisc.

Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager, cautioned that he didn’t view the release of his client’s album on a DualDisc configuration as a broader endorsement of the format.

“We had a concept we thought our fans would like” — namely, the film of Springsteen playing, Landau says. He and Springsteen considered including the movie as a separate DVD in the same package as a CD, until Sony BMG executives explained the DualDisc concept, which he says happened to be “perfectly suited” to their current plans.

But, the manager added, “When (Springsteen) does his next album, there could be no DualDisc.”

Few people working in the music industry are harboring illusions that the DualDisc will fuel the kind of sales boom that the introduction of the CD did in the early 1980s, when people began replacing their old vinyl records in large quantities. “That’s not where my head is,” Lack says.

Paul Bishou, vice president of marketing for new formats at Universal Music Group’s eLabs division, says he envisions DualDisc as “part of the product mix,” along with online downloads, ringtones and other new ways to hear music, rather than as an outright replacement for the CD.

But many hope that by giving consumers a significant extra, the new format will at least serve as a bulwark against the rampant online and physical piracy that has helped decimate CD sales for the past five years. In addition, consumers have at times griped that CDs seem like a poor value proposition next to DVDs, which offer not just a movie but also bonus features.

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