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Listen.com Pumps up Volume on Rhapsody

While it didn't garner all the hype of MusicNet or pressplay, Rhapsody, the new online music subscription service from Listen.com beat those two heavyweights -- an all other comers -- to the punch when it was launched Monday.

San Francisco's Listen.com, with backing from all of the Big 5 record companies, has been working for months on Rhapsody, which in its early incarnation will offer music lovers a package that bundles music services and features within one environment.

For example, those who subscribe to Rhapsody will be entitled to unlimited streaming on-demand playback for a flat monthly fee, free, unlimited Internet radio with access to more than 50 stations, access to editorial reviews, as well as a playlist creation and sharing option. These offerings are in keeping with what many digital music analysts have said is an important component of success for such business models -- attractive, value-added features as part of the services.

As far as specific catalog offerings, Listen.com Monday unveiled the following packages: -- "Naxos Classical" catalog for $5.95 per month; the Rhapsody "Sampler" catalog, also $5.95 per month, will give subscribers access to an music spanning multiple genres; lastly, "Sampler Plus" catalog $$7.95/month is the premium version of this and gives listeners a package that combines the two catalogs into a single subscription offering.

Though optimized for broadband connection speeds, Rhapsody will also support users with dial-up connections. As of today, listeners can subscribe to Rhapsody or sign up for a free three-day trial via the Listen.com.

Listen.com's proud news comes a little more than two weeks after it forged an agreement to use music protected by New York's The Harry Fox Agency Inc. (HFA), -- the licensing subsidiary of The National Music Publishers' Association Inc. (NMPA). Listen.com will pay HFA an advance of up to $500,000 toward the royalties to be determined by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Indeed, MusicNet and pressplay, which are created and backed by factions of the Big 5, are scheduled to rollout this month or the next, depending on any snags. But those are just two of the bigger names in an industry that is sure to be flooded with similar ventures -- enough in fact to make heads spin (or ears bleed, if you prefer) from digital music service overload. It will be the music service providers' challenge to blow rivals away with value-added services to entice music lovers, or risk failure.

While the most talked about for sure, other music services are pending from firms such as RioPort, which will offer music in the new year through its PulseOne e-commerce service. Like Listen.com, RioPort has also tabbed the Big 5 for access to their catalogs. But the real attraction here may be its portability feature, or allowing music to be put on CDs or stored as MP3s; analysts say this is another key for the success of online music services.