Since Apple Computer’s iTunes service appears to be successful, a flood of companies are announcing sites for licensed online music downloads. Here’s an article about the recent announcements.

The first one to open is’s, but Napster’s brand name will be revived by Roxio later this year, along with services from MusicMatch and AOL – and perhaps from Amazon and Microsoft, although they haven’t announced firm plans yet. Here’s an article about Napster’s revival, and here’s some comments from The Register on MusicMatch’s announcement and reasons to be skeptical that any of the ventures will be successful.

The record industry is forcing songs to be priced from 79-99 cents apiece, so the services won’t be able to differentiate themselves on price. Watch for lots of claims about “ease of use” and hype about easy integration with various portable mp3 players, the way iTunes integrates with the iPod.

Apple negotiated a good deal with the labels, allowing each download to have identical restrictions – each can be played an unlimited number of times, each can be burned to CDs with some restrictions, etc. So far the industry has not offered the same flexibility for Windows computers. Downloads from are not all equal – some songs can be burned to CDs, some cannot, and there are different limits on how many of your devices are allowed to play a song, for example.

These are still not appealing services – they offer a thin selection of songs at too high a price. Think about it. Why aren’t you able to get every song from each label’s back catalog? 300,000 songs sounds like a lot, but it’s a tiny fraction of the songs released in the last thirty years. And why are you asked to pay almost the same price for a downloaded album as for a CD, when the marginal cost for each download is close to zero? Downloaded songs require virtually no packaging and distribution costs. A buck a song? Don’t be silly. Fire up Kazaa until they get serious.

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