Making singles available online before they are released on CD combats file-swapping, the music industry has conceded.

The International Herald Tribune points out how labels used to be afraid of issuing singles online before they are available on CD, because they thought it would fuel piracy, upset traditional marketing, and anger brick-and–mortar retailers.

However, iit points out that now songs are now released for sale by download through the likes of iTunes, Napster, and RealRhapsody on the day the songs reach the radio – often eight-weeks before the CD reaches the shops.

Apple Computer vice president for applications and Internet services Eddy Cue said: "A year ago, there were certainly labels that weren't willing to release any single prior to the CD being released. I'm not aware of anybody who falls into that equation today. Everybody gets it now."

Universal Music Group senior vice president of eLabs Amanda Marks said: "It seemed silly not to give listeners the opportunity to purchase, and for them only to have an opportunity to steal. Protests from retailers about early downloads have been minimal, in part because some major outlets, like Tower Records, FYE and Wal-Mart Stores, have their own download stores."

The report points out that while download sales are small, they are growing, and "may well point to an invigorated singles market for an industry that had all but abandoned it in the past 20 years to promote sales of full-length CDs".

Sales of downloads actually eclipse sales of CD singles, even without taking the even larger numbers of illegal downloads in to consideration. According to Nielsen SoundScan, there have been 39.6 million download sales compared to just 3.5 million physical single sales.

The Herald suggests: "A growing singles market represents an opportunity for labels not just to capture lost sales, but also to gauge fan interest in coming recordings."

Senior director for content programming for the Napster download store Micah McKinney said: "We know exactly who's buying what, when and at what frequency. All that data is very valuable for them developing their marketing plans and initiatives."