MSN Music Store to Rock the Music Download Boat
MSN has unveiled MSN Music Store, their pay per download WMP driven system which is predicted to give Apple iTunes, Napster, and RealNetworks a run for their money in the realm of legal music download search. MSN Music Service will initially offer music downloads of 500,000 music tracks for 99 cents apiece and $9.99 per album. MSN states that it plans to have 1 million music tracks available, the same number as rival Apple offers, over the next couple of months. MSN also has licensing deals with all five major music labels and around 3,000 indie labels.
Neowin.net reports MSN Music Store allows users to download music from a variety of artists for 99 cents per song, $9.90 per album. Content wise, the site does not pass the infamous Beatles test (context: neither do any others), yet a notice can be seen suggesting that the Beatles will soon be added. They claim to have licensed over 1 million songs, substantially more than other online outfits, from “major music labels, independents, and even undiscovered artists”. When Apple came to the UK, they had (and still are) problems securing contracts with Independent labels. Microsoft appears to have used its significantly larger financial clout to solve these issues; The Beatles, for example, were only going online with a company that would offer them a lot of money.
To compare with iTunes; the site is intended to be used via WMP 10, but can be viewed in browsers (link below). The site appeared usable in non-IE browsers, yet had a few minor quirks, as is to be expected. The price is similar to iTunes. In terms of DRM / format efficiency, the site claims that the music can be played on 70 devices – i.e. WMA enabled devices – and is encoded at 160kbps WMA; iTunes uses 128k AAC encoding (FairPlay DRM). Microsoft have been quite generous in terms of rights, with the site reporting that the “MSN Music allows you to play your music on up to five Windows PCs, burn play lists to CD up to seven times, and transfer to an unlimited number of portable audio devices.” iTunes purchased music can be played only on PC/Macs & iPods. MSN Music also has reviews, ratings, and album information in a similar fashion to iTunes. The site will have celebrity recommendations, ala iTunes, and ‘expertly’ themed playlists. All in all, the site compares very well, in some areas coming out clearly on top.
The site requires a passport account for use. Asides from hosting music, the site also offers cinema information, a variety of radio stations, and TV listings for the USA. No word on whether the site will be offering localised information when it is launched proper.
The site is slick and well designed, arguably slick enough to compete well with iTunes. It might be added, however, that it is not difficult for Microsoft to promote it’s own services (e.g. IE default homepage -> msn.com) and tunnel its Windows market share elsewhere. That aside, the site will undoubtedly enjoy success in its own right. The service looks well thought through and is easily accessible. You can check it out at the link below; the site is expected to go live with the launch of Windows Media Player 10, which is expected as soon as tomorrow. If you can’t wait, you can download the WMP 10 Public Preview, here