Best Buy, Real, and SanDisk Make Music

The leading U.S. consumer electronics retailer, Best Buy, announced today that it is partnering with RealNetworks and SanDisk to launch a new online music service October 15, competing with Apple’s market-leading iTunes, as well as a number of other online music services such as Microsoft and MTV’s Urge, Napster, Yahoo Music, and eMusic.

Earlier this month, RealNetworks and SanDisk announced a deal to roll support for Real’s online subscription service Rhapsody into Sansa’s e200 series of music players. The new Best Boy Digital Music Store extends that arrangement, offering a branded online music service powered by Rhapsody and bundling a two month subscription with the purchase of a SanDisk Sansa e200R music player, which will be available in 2, 6, and 8 GB configurations for about $140, $180, and $250, respectively. After the two-month period, users can opt to continue their subscriptions for $14.99 a month—not coincidentally, the going rate for the Rhapsody To Go service, which lets users transfer music to portable devices. Users will be able to buy songs outright for $0.99 apiece, but if they let their subscriptions lapse, they won’t be able to access the Rhapsody music library.

The move may be a smart extension of RealNetworks and SanDisk’s partnership; adding the retail muscle of Best Buy may offer an edge competing against both the juggernaut of Apple’s iPod/iTunes pairing, but also against Microsoft’s forthcoming Zune portable media players, which may be underwhelming critics but undoubtedly has the full backing of one off the world’s most resourceful technology companies. SanDisk is currently a (distant) number two seller of digital audio players in the U.S. market, lagging for behind the iPod but ahead of the myriad of non-iTunes-compatible music players. It also marks yet another move away from Microsoft’s long-touted PlaysForSure platform designed to guarantee interoperability amongst music players: Apple’s iPod has never played along, and MIcrosoft itself has abandoned the notion in its Zune player, which opts for a Zune-specific integrated hardware/software/service solution. With integrated “Rhapsody DNA,” SanDisks’ e200R players latch themselves specifically to Real’s Rhapsody service rather than embracing the flagging PlaysForSure platform.

[Update: Real Networks has just announced Rhapsody 4.0, offering a revised interface, improved music discovery unctions, drag-and-drop support, and integrated support for music players—like the Sansa e300R series and the Sonos 2.0 Digital Music System—which incorporate Rhapsody DNA.]

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