I like to boast, smugly, that I haven't paid for a CD in years. Instead, I subscribe to a music service called Rhapsody that gives me all the tunes I want for $12.99 a month. But with social-networking giant MySpace unveiling its new music service Sept. 25, I'm becoming less smug by the moment.
To begin with, MySpace Music is free, and users get instant access to a vast library of songs. The site has inked deals to upload the catalogs of the four major labels: EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Throw in songs from the 5 million artists who already have pages on the site, and MySpace has a pretty good starter set.
How good? MySpace won't say how big its song library is but admits it trails rivals like Rhapsody and iTunes. Although MySpace's agreements with those four mondo labels cover more than 2 million titles, a friend who works at one of the Big Four says the site is struggling to get the catalogs online and is also dealing with "artist sensitivities" meaning a few musicians are unwilling to make some of their albums available.
Over time, MySpace says its library will grow and be competitive with those of Rhapsody and iTunes, something that music industry insiders say is part of the Grand Plan for music. "A healthy ecosystem that's all we want," my friend says. "Music as a utility." In other words, the labels want to see the same library of music available everywhere, in every possible way: for free and by subscription; streaming from sites and pay-per-download; locked and unlocked. Let the best business model win! The labels make money every which way. Indeed, both Sony Ericsson and its rival, Nokia, are launching services overseas this year (and later in the U.S., my friend says) that would give cell phone users access to the same vast music library, for free. The tunes would be linked to the cellular handsets, but even if you dropped your mobile carrier, you could keep the songs you downloaded.