Online music choices grow

LONDON Thu Oct 18, 2007 7:50pm BST

Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, June 28, 2003. Listeners now have many new ways to buy music online -- from subscription and set-your-own price to advertising-supported. Radiohead sold its new album as a digital download at its Web site for as much or as little as fans wanted to pay. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, June 28, 2003. Listeners now have many new ways to buy music online -- from subscription and set-your-own price to advertising-supported. Radiohead sold its new album as a digital download at its Web site for as much or as little as fans wanted to pay.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Whether at home, in the car or at his desk, designer Ben Robinson is surrounded by his favorite music -- via his iPod or a Web jukebox like Pandora. Like other fans all over the world, Robinson, 26, is benefiting from the music industry's drive to reinvent itself in the digital age.

Listeners now have many new ways to buy music online -- from subscription and set-your-own price to advertising-supported.

And, of course, there is Apple's (AAPL.O) established online giant -- iTunes.

Since it has become so easy to get music online, Robinson, for one, said he is buying twice as much as he used to. And he is also going to more gigs -- all good news for an industry that has struggled with CD sales falling at an alarming rate.

Soon there may be an even wider array of choices. Ben Cardew, chief reporter of Music Week magazine, sees the industry sampling lots of new ways to sell tunes to meet demand, which he says is stronger than ever.

"Wherever you go, people are listening to iPods, music is on adverts and the live scene is doing incredibly well. The demand is absolutely there," Cardew said. "(There are) so many great new ideas -- from ad-funded to subscription and giving away your album with a newspaper."

The subject of selling music made the headlines recently after the acclaimed rock band Radiohead sold its new album as a digital download at its Web site for as much or as little as fans wanted to pay (www.inrainbows.com/Store/index3.htm).

Pop star Prince gave his latest album away free with a newspaper in Britain, generating huge publicity for a tour.

FREE OR PAID -- TAKE YOUR PICK

These days there is such a variety of choice, consumers may want to experiment to find the best option for their individual needs.

One model is a subscription service that provides unlimited music for a set amount each month. Those were expected to be one of the most successful models when services like the now-legal Napster NAPS.O and RealNetwork's (RNWK.O) Rhapsody launched.

But some say the fact that you don't own the music, and can lose it if you cancel the subscription, has resulted in turning off consumers. Tracks sold by Napster and Rhapsody are also not able to play on the mass-selling iPod due to their format.

One way to get around this problem is the subscription service eMusic, which sells tracks in an MP3 format that can be played on any digital device. But the lack of copyright protection on the tracks means the major labels -- which sign some of the biggest bands -- will not work with eMusic.

Other options to look into are smaller start-ups SpiralFrog and Qtrax, which offer music downloads for free to consumers who will watch adverts.

SpiralFrog has recently launched its service and Qtrax is due to launch in December, while Ruckus Network Inc. already offers a similar service to U.S. colleges.

Another spot to look for music is online radio services Pandora and Last.fm, which work as social networks recommending tracks between fans. Those looking for new music, particularly from unsigned bands, may want to browse through MySpace.

And, if you're willing to pay for downloads, there is Amie Street, which prices songs according to their popularity.

"It's definitely easier to get the music that you want now, there's always a way," said Mark Sutherland, global editor of trade publication Billboard. "The days of having to sift through second-hand shops (are) pretty much long gone."

(Reporting by Kate Holton)

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