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Listen.com to tune in new music service

Music service provider Listen.com is set to flip the switch on its new music subscription service Monday, connecting consumers to legal, digital versions of tunes ahead of long-awaited efforts from the major labels.

Listen.com said its new digital music service, dubbed Rhapsody, will offer music fans features such as unlimited streams of music, access to more than 50 commercial-free Net radio stations, and a playlist-sharing program that lets people create mixes and send them to friends.

But for now, Listen.com says it lacks major-label content that would give it a broad mix of songs from well-known musicians.

Sources close to EMI Group said the label-one of the Big Five record companies-expects to announce Monday that it has licensed its music to Listen.com. Dave Williams, vice president of product management at Listen.com, would not comment on specific deals or negotiations. He said, however, that the company is in negotiations with all the major labels and that “there will be content parody between our services and other services within the next few months.”

“I think that it will be far less about who’s got which content and far more about which product experience offers the best value to the consumer,” Williams said.

The major labels are gearing up to launch their own online music subscription services in an attempt to change the digital music landscape. Sony and Vivendi Universal are expected to release Pressplay, while RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI are moving closer to launching MusicNet.

Analysts, however, say it could take years for music subscription services to take off-especially if they don’t offer “compelling” content that is unavailable on existing file-swapping software.

“Early on (subscription services are) going to have trouble generating a whole lot of momentum behind (the) initial splash,” said Jarvis Mak, analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings.

Listen.com said Rhapsody will offer people access to its library of digital music, including those that come from the company’s licensing agreements with 37 independent labels, such as Monarch Records, Heydey Records, LoveCat Records and Tinder Records.

Rhapsody, which will be available at Listen.com’s Web site, will offer consumers several subscription options: “Naxos Classical” for $5.95 a month that features classical music; “Sampler” for $5.95 a month that gives consumers access to a sample of music from a range of genres; and “Sampler Plus” for $7.95 per month that combines the two catalogs under one subscription.

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