Rhapsody launched its new MP3 store today. After years of running a subscription-based music shop, RealNetwork and MTV have completely retooled their service to pull music fans away from iTunes while letting them keep their iPods. Hereâ€™s the pitch:
â€“ The songs are not wrapped in the usual Digital Rights Management (DRM) that handicaps some other online music services. That means these songs will play on iPods â€“ not the case with Rhapsodyâ€™s old subscription service. And, unlike with most iTunes songs, they will also work on any other MP3 player.
â€“ Its DRM-free catalog includes songs from all four of the major music labels â€“ Universal, EMI, Sony, and Warner.
â€“ Songs will be 99 cents each, $9.99 for album. Same price as iTunes; Amazonâ€™s MP3s are a few cents less.
â€“ You can listen to the full song before buying it. The normal taste-testing limit is 30 seconds.
â€“ Once you download a song, Rhapsody will volunteer to automatically import the file into iTunes â€“ a nice touch for iPod owners. This feature only works in Windows.
â€“ The service will be rolled into websites such as Yahoo, iLike, and MTV. Rhapsody will also keep its old subscription music plan.
â€“ Through a deal with Verizon, songs can be downloaded straight to some V Cast phones. The purchased tracks can then be transferred to your computer when you get home.
From the looks of it, Rhapsody is doing everything right. The problem is: These are all the same moves that everyone else has made before.
Amazon offers a larger selection of DRM-free music. Several small sites host a more interesting mix of indie music â€“ Ars Technica suggests AmieStreet.com. Even Rhapsodyâ€™s most intriguing option â€“ the Verizon V Cast deal â€“ is a current feature on iPhones and iPod Touches.
The whole announcement seems like a â€śme tooâ€ť moment for Rhapsody. Itâ€™s a solid B+ effort, but thereâ€™s little that distinguishes this from the pack â€“ especially for people who own both a Mac and an iPod.
So, if youâ€™re happy with your current MP3 service, carry on. But if youâ€™re itching for something better, give Rhapsody a try.