Digital Flashback: The Cure For Internet Distribution

British band became first major artists to distribute a CD exclusively via Web.

The Cure became the first major artists to post recordings for sale exclusively on the Internet when they began selling a limited-edition live EP through their official Web site.

The Net release of Five Swing Live in May 1997 came almost a year to the date after the release of British band's Wild Mood Swings album. The EP featured versions of songs from the album as performed during the tail end of the Cure's Swing tour.

Fans were advised to go to the Cure House — the band's official site — to fill out some forms and pay $15.95, by credit card, for the EP. A month later, the CD arrived in the mail, protected by a thick cardboard shell. Though this sounds routine in today's e-world, three years ago this was an unusual way to sell an album.

The Web site debuted six months earlier, and one reason for the Web-only sale of the EP was to bring attention to the site, with which singer Robert Smith and keyboardist Roger O'Donnell were heavily involved. (In later interviews, Smith said O'Donnell was more of a cybersurfer than he was.)

Around the same time as Five Swing Live went on sale, the rock band Tripping Daisy posted a page on their Web site to sell a six-song EP, Time Capsule. on their Web site. But Tripping Daisy also sold the EP through their fan club, thereby losing out on the "first Internet-only" designation.

The Cure EP featured "Want" (RealAudio excerpt), "Club America" and "Treasure," recorded on Dec. 16, 1996, in Birmingham, England. "Trap" came from a Dec. 13 show in Sheffield, England, and the peppy "Mint Car" (RealAudio excerpt) was recorded the following night in Manchester, England.

Smith mixed the CD and designed the psychedelic cover art. In the lower left corner of the front cover was printed the number of the CD's position in the run of 5,000 copies. All 5,000 were sold within a few weeks in May 1997, and they remain sought-after items among Cure collectors today.