Offering a library of more than 200,000 songs at 99 cents each, the MusicMatch service will allow computer users to buy and download music with few restrictions, a model pioneered by Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store in May.
Although iTunes has been successful, selling 10 million songs by early September, it is currently available only on Apple’s Macintosh computers, which represent only about 3 percent of the market.
While MusicMatch officials see the expected launch of a Windows-version of iTunes later this year as a major competitor, they also argue that their service has some advantages.
For one thing, they cite the company’s 40 million-user base for its popular MusicMatch Jukebox as a strong starting point.
MusicMatch’s innovation is also a strong selling point, they said, referring to its music personalization technology that helps music fans find the artists, albums and tracks that match their personal taste.
Other competitors include BuyMusic.com, launched in July by Scott Blum, the founder of Internet retailer Buy.com, which offers music downloads for as little as 79 cents per song.
RealNetworks Inc.’s Rhapsody also sells some downloads for 79 cents a song but with a few more restrictions, according to MusicMatch, while media software company Roxio Inc. is planning to soon unveil a legitimate version of song-swap pioneer Napster.
Analysts said while the music industry is hoping to convert music fans to these new services and away from illegal file-sharing services, challenges remain.
“Download services will pop up like computer retail stores in the 1990s, but it will be difficult to keep making money on tracks and keep customers returning,” Mike McGuire, analyst with GartnerG2.
Despite the flurry of legitimate online music services, illegal file-sharing remains persistent, with users of free, unauthorized services like Kazaa sharing hundreds of millions of files with each other at any given point.
MusicMatch is privately held. Early investors include Intel Capital and Thomson Multimedia.