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Listen.com Launches Music Subscription Service

San Francisco-based Listen.com announced on Monday that it launched a music subscription service, called Rhapsody, which allows listeners to stream music on-demand or through radio channels. At launch, Listen (www.listen.com) is not carrying music from any of the big five major labels, who are launching their own music subscription services. Instead, Listen has signed up 46 independent labels like GNP Crescendo Records, JamDown Records, Jazzateria, and Tinder Records.

MusicNet, backed by BMG, EMI, Warner and Zomba and is set to launch its own music service tomorrow with the help of RealNetworks. Universal and Sony are backing PressPlay, which is more vague about its launch date and will be using Windows Media technology with help from Universal's MP3.com. Additionally, EMI has licensed its content to PressPlay, as well.

Still, Listen said it is still working on getting the major labels and hopes to make announcements soon. It looks promising, since Listen had earlier received financial backing from all five major record labels already. "We have a base of content that's compelling to the end user," said Listen.com PR manager Matt Graves, pointing out that even the labels are in discussions with each other. "This is a marathon not a sprint, and content will open up," he said.

"In launching Rhapsody, Listen.com has successfully completed its transformation into a music delivery company," said Sean Ryan, president and chief executive officer of Listen.com, in a statement. "Rhapsody embodies the same vision for digital music that has been the foundation of our company since its inception — provide compelling products that make it easier for businesses and consumers to find and enjoy music. We're living proof that digital music still has a pulse."

Listen is offering users a free three-day trial, along with various monthly pricing models. The Classical music channel costs $5.95 a month, while the Sampler channel includes everything except classical music for the same monthly price. The Sampler Plus offering costs $7.95 and includes both the Classical and Sampler music content. Users get unlimited on-demand streaming playback of music, 50 programmed Internet radio stations, as well as playlist creation and playlist sharing. The service includes contextual information like artist data, recommendations, genre and biographies.

Rhapsody is offering an unlimited streaming model, which is different from the upcoming MusicNet service, which will use a music rental model. As such, Rhapsody users can stream as much music as they like without having to worry about limits or time-out periods. But both Rhapsody and MusicNet do not allow users to burn CDs or transfer them to portable digital music players.

Graves said that Listen is launching this as a private label service, so that it can provide other companies or portals their own music service. Listen.com's distribution partners — including Seattle-based broadband service provider Speakeasy.net and classical music label Naxos of America — will also launch and market their co-branded versions of the Rhapsody service in the near future.

Listen uses a hybrid streaming/caching platform developed by TuneTo.com and the radio building capability of WiredPlanet, two companies that Listen acquired in the last few months. As such, Rhapsody is optimized for broadband connections, although it also supports dial-up users. Graves said that the company is using a proprietary encoding method that gives them "super efficiency." Listen caches encrypted content on end user's hard drives, which means that users can stream just 1Kb of data and still get CD-quality music. "Not eating up bandwidth allows us to offer exceptional audio, at low bandwidth rates. And there's no worry about serving dialup," he said. "The [online music] market won't generate lots of revenue in the short term, but long term, it's a huge market," said Graves.

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