MP3tunes launches with 300,000 songs

First announced last week, MP3.com founder Michael Robertson launched a new venture Wednesday called MP3tunes. The online music download service, hoping to grab a piece of the market Apple dominates with the iTunes Music Store, is starting out with 300,000 songs available for download for US$0.88 each or $8.88 per album.

Robertson said MP3tunes is differentiated from other legitimate download services because of the control users have over their music. Other services, Robertson said, force users to "rent" music "from a big corporation that controls what software, computer and portable devices they can use."

In contrast, MP3tunes music is encoded in the ubiquitous MP3 format, at a bit rate of 192Kbps. The music uses no Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection -- it's compatible with any computer platform, digital music player and home entertainment device that can play MP3 files, including iTunes and the iPod. And since there are no DRM restrictions, you can burn the files as often as you'd like to CD.

What's more, MP3tunes music is saved in a "Music Locker" after you purchase it -- so if your computer crashes, your hard disk is wiped out, or you switch machines, you can access your past purchases without having to buy them again.

The service's catalog is accessible through a Web browser, and the interface takes a iTunes Music Store-like approach to presenting its catalog: Top albums, top artists and new releases are presented with thumbnail graphics in scrolling horizontal menus on the home page; sidebars list genres, top albums and top songs as well.

The 300,000 songs have been made by more than 22,000 artists, according to MP3tunes. But the lack of DRM protection does have one downside -- MP3tunes is populated by independent music artists, so users looking for downloadable music from major commercial artists will likely have to continue to depend on services like the iTunes Music Store for now. The absence of major label representation doesn't dissuade Robertson from hoping for the best from his fledgling service, however.

"MP3.com started with complete songs in MP3 format from promising young artists like Linkin Park and Maroon 5. Then it expanded to include new artists from major labels, and eventually it grew to be a key promotional vehicle for all the major record labels. I'm confident MP3tunes will follow the same path -- if music buyers come to MP3tunes, then ultimately forward-thinking labels will too," said Robertson in a statement.

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