Dolly Parton's longevity as a singer can be measured now by how she markets herself.
She began her career by going to radio stations, knocking on doors and asking the DJs to spin her records. When she made it to "The Porter Wagoner Show" in the late 1960s, she found a mass audience through television. Now, she's utilizing the Internet as a marketing tool for the first time.
For her new CD, "Backwoods Barbie," the 62-year-old country-music maven is allowing her new material to go to the Internet before it's available in stores. She's also expanding her Web presence with an official site devoted to all things Dolly.
Of the new CD, she says, "I have made a bigger push on it and marketed it more than I ever have before."
"Better Get to Livin'," the CD's first single, was made available on iTunes weeks before it was found elsewhere. Now that the CD has been released in stores, it is also available for downloading.
DollyParton.com is still a work in progress. If you visit it now, you can be directed to sites for her business interests (such as Dollywood and Dixie Stampede) and her philanthropic projects (her Imagination Library). An announcement declaring "Dolly's official Web site coming in 2008" blazes across the screen.
Her fans already have beaten her to the Web. Dozens of Parton-fan Web sites have been up and running for years, including the ever-watchful Dollymania.net, priding itself as being a "newsmagazine" about the endearing star.
The idea to market her music via the Web came from her longtime road manager, Danny Nozell.
"He had all these wonderful ideas, and I knew he was the person I have been looking for all this time to bounce ideas off of," she says.
"He's great with this new technology and Web sites and all, stuff I had never done before, but I wasn't willing to do it because it was all so foreign to me."
So far, "Backwoods Barbie" has started off promising. Though it premiered on the Billboard charts by selling a modest 27,000 copies, it was strong enough to debut at No. 17 on the magazine's Top 200 Album Chart, which ranks the hottest-selling CDs regardless of genre. The same week, it was the second biggest-selling CD on the country charts. According to Billboard, it represents Parton's highest debut ever on its Top 200 Album Chart.
Going online first to market the CD "brought a lot of attention to the album," says Ed Brantley, general manager for WIVK-FM in Knoxville, Tenn., one of the most influential country-music radio stations in the United States. "It is unique for her, and it's very good."
Marketing her CD on the Web only makes sense, says Brantley. With the increase of downloading and the decrease of actual CD sales in stores, artists such as Parton are changing with the times.
"CDs don't sell anymore," he says. "If record stores are closing and Wal-Mart and Target are shrinking their areas for CDs and most people are getting their music online, where would you market your new album?"
A superstar on the scale of Parton can be a slight exception, though, he says. Her star power can bring the public to a new release anyway.
"She could walk into a radio station and people would be in awe," Brantley says.
Parton admits she isn't very Web savvy. She has e-mail and someone else maintains her official Web site, but she's not exactly the type to hunker over a computer and surf the Internet.
"I don't get online at all. I'm not very good at that," she says. "I'll get on if someone is helping me with it. I've got a whole bunch of people around me who are good at that."
However, Parton knows the times are changing again in her career, and she's ready to go with it.
"I was singing on television before we even owned one," she says. "Now I am online and doing all this stuff. I don't even work the computer. I'm not even that good at it. I'm computer illiterate. I'm of that school, but I have surrounded myself with people who do know. I don't have to know.
"All I am doing is what I have always done. I create the product and let them go from there."