RealNetworks says its Rhapsody store will now offer music for sale. But more than just another digital music store, Rhapsody is using cellular downloads to end-run Apple's iTunes service and other competitors.
Verizon Wireless customers are hearing today that they now can get a wide variety of tunes on their handsets without copy protection through Rhapsody. Use the cellular network to download music from Rhapsody's huge library, and know that the music can play on any device. It's a unique pitch, if not entirely true.
Rhapsody's move into selling tracks is a big departure for the service, which until now focused on a subscription model. Music lovers can still get unlimited tunes from Rhapsody, as long as they pay $15 a month. Quit paying and the music stops, literally, which is among the downsides to subscribing for music.
Now Rhapsody will sell tracks and albums that customers can keep forever on their PC, burn to a CD, or play on their Apple iPod and other music players. The price of $1 for a track is a bit more than at Amazon, which also sells music that is entirely free of annoying copy protections. The price is the same as Apple's iTunes, but only part of its catalog sells without copy protection.
Still, iTunes dominates because of how well it works with iPods, which control the market for music players. Rhapsody's answer is the partnership with Verizon. Through wireless carriers, Rhapsody can one-up Apple by making its music easy to get on phones.
Music snagged over the carrier network carries a premium price of $2 a track. But many of us will pay more for the privilege of impulse buying, particularly now that the partnership with Rhapsody means the music will play anywhere.
Make it easy for me to download tunes across the wireless network, and maybe I no longer need my iPod. Rhapsody desktop software also promises to ease "sideloading" tracks to my handset from my PC, much as iTunes now does with the iPod and other portable devices.
With wireless handsets as partner devices, maybe Rhapsody can make a dent in the iTunes juggernaut.
Not yet. Seems only a few Verizon handsets will get the Rhapsody software. There's no mention, for example, of BlackBerry devices as eligible for the Rhapsody service.
So Rhapsody's "music without limits" just might be a decent competitor to iTunes, once it gets past the handset limits.