By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Full Audio has joined the trend to offer authorized music downloads without charging a monthly subscription fee.
Full Audio will make a non-subscription option available through its MusicNow site and through a national retailer's Web site, where it will be co-branded with the MusicNow name, a spokesman said. Like the current service, the non-subscription option will also be available through ISP services operated by EarthLink, cable MSO Charter Communications and Clear Channel Communications.
Like most of the other major non-subscription services, the MusicNow service uses the Windows Media Audio codec and DRM technology, making the downloads playable on a growing number of Internet audio portables. Compatible portables include the new iRiver flash-memory portables and Dell's first two HDD music portables.
At least three other non-subscription services — Napster 2.0, MusicMatch and Buymusic.com —also support WMA and the WMA DRM. Apple's iTunes store, on the other hand, supports the AAC codec and uses Apple's proprietary DRM technology, making downloads compatible only with Apple's music portables.
In adopting a non-subscription option, Full Audio is charging 99 cents per downloaded song or $9.95 per album. Previously, consumers who wanted to download were required to pay $9.95/ month for a service that included 40 non-interactive streaming-music channels and offered an unlimited number of downloads to the subscriber's hard drive. The songs, locked to the hard drive, would time out when the subscription lapsed. Subscribers pay an additional 99 cents per song to burn those songs in Redbook Audio format to a CD or to transfer the song to a compatible Internet audio portable. The burning/transfer option became available only in February.
"In the future, no subscription will be needed to download a song," a Full Audio spokesman said. "We're following the market."
In another change, Full Audio subscribers and non-subscribers will be able to burn or transfer all 400,000 songs in the site's collection. Previously, only select songs could be burned or transferred, the spokesman said. Songs are available from the big five music companies.
Beginning in February, MusicNow began offering more liberal usage rights, thanks to a relaxation of copyright restrictions by the major music companies. Similar rights are enjoyed by users of the Apple, Napster 2.0. MusicMatch, and Buymusic.com services (see TWICE, Oct. 13, p. 4).
Among other rights, MusicNow downloaders enjoy the right to play back a downloaded song on up to three PCs registered with the company. The songs can be transferred among the three PCs via email or via a local area network.
Music-management software available with Dell's new portables direct users to MusicMatch's download service, which charges 99 cents to download any one of its more than 250,000 songs and $9.99 for most albums. By the end of the year, MusicMatch promises to offer more than 500,000 songs.
MusicMatch personal-use features include:
Unlimited transfers to WMA-compatible portables.
The ability to burn each downloaded song in Redbook Audio form to an unlimited number of CDs, although only five discs can be burned with the same playlist, or downloaded album, in Redbook audio form.
The ability to play the compressed-music files on up to three PCs in three different locations. Downloaders must use their user name and password to register the PCs on-line. After that, the file can be played from those PCs without being connected to the Internet. The compressed files can be exported to the second and third PCs via e-mail or via a WMA CD.
MusicNow and Dell Store songs can be transferred to about 40 models of portable music players, including the first two HDD portables.
Dell's HDD-based 7.6-ounce Dell DJ comes in 15GB and 20GB versions at $249 and $329, respectively. They play MP3 and WMA files and do triple-duty as a voice recorder and backup data drive. Their built-in rechargeable lithium-polymer battery provides up to 16 hours playback time.
For its part, iRiver in mid-November will make a running change to its WMA flash-memory portables to support the Microsoft DRM, which will also be available at that time as a download to upgrade consumers' existing iRiver flash-memory portables. In January, iRiver will also make a running change to its first HDD music portable, the $399-suggested 20GB iHP-120, and the company will make the DRM available as a download to current iHP-120 users. The FM-tuner-equipped model features MP3 encoder and playback of MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, and ASF formats.
It delivers 16 hours of use on the internal rechargeable lithium battery.
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