MySpace set to offer free access to music
SAN FRANCISCO - Make room, iTunes. MySpace is hoping to shake up the digital music scene.
In a bid to spruce up its popular online hangout, MySpace plans to flip the switch today on a much-anticipated service that will give its roughly 120 million users free access to hundreds of thousands of songs from the world's largest recording labels.
The catch: The music can be played only on personal computers connected to the Internet and listeners have to tolerate advertising splashed across the screen. Anyone who wants to transfer a song to a portable device like Apple Inc.'s iPod will have to buy the music through Amazon.com Inc.'s year-old downloading service, which sells songs for as little as 79 cents.
Unlike much of the material at Apple's iTunes store, the music sold through MySpace's new service won't contain the protections that limit how many times a track can be copied.
MySpace is hoping to set itself apart from iTunes even further by allowing its users to create an unlimited number of playlists containing up to 100 songs apiece - a sharing concept similar to music services already offered by Imeem and Last.fm.
If MySpace's plan pans out, people will regularly post different playlists on their profiles and expose their friends to new music.
The recording labels are betting these implicit recommendations will cultivate more interest in more songs and eventually generate revenue to help recoup some of the revenue that has evaporated as CD sales have plunged from $12 billion in 1999 to a projected $5 billion this year.
"We have to unlock the social value of our music," said Michael Nash, executive vice president of digital strategy and business development for Warner Music Group.
Besides Warner, the three other major recording labels - Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and EMI Music - also are opening up their libraries to the MySpace service, which will operate as a joint venture with the music industry. Sony ATV/Music Publishing and The Orchard also have joined the MySpace alliance.
MySpace is starting with several hundred thousand songs, but expects to surpass the size of Apple's iTunes store, which stocks 8.5 million.
"When all is said and done, we will have the richest catalog of content on the Internet," boasted Amit Kapur, MySpace's chief operating officer.