A REVOLUTIONARY online music service offering free song downloads will launch today.
Qtrax, a file-sharing site funded by advertisers and backed by the pop industry, will initially boast a five-million-song catalogue – similar to iTunes.
And its Melbourne pioneer said the plan is to eventually deliver about 25 million free songs to music lovers.
The site, launched in Cannes, France, with stars James Blunt and LL Cool J, is predicted to signal the death knell for CDs and a massive challenge to iTunes. "This will change music profoundly," Qtrax chief Allan Klepfisz said. "Once the genie is out of the bottle, the industry won't turn back. The time has come for free music."
Significantly, major record companies, which have traditionally sued file sharing or peer-to-peer (P2P) sites, support Qtrax. Qtrax has licensing agreements with the majors – EMI, SonyBMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group – allowing access to about five million songs.The same catalogue is on sale at the popular online music store, iTunes.
Mr Klepfisz, 52, has been working on Qtrax for eight years, initially in Melbourne and more recently in his New York base.
Artists and record labels were supporting Qtrax to stem a losing fight against stolen music, he said. And Qtrax would compensate artists unlike illegal music download sites, he said.
Record companies will get an equal split of advertising revenue and royalty fees it collects from Qtrax. A recent music industry report by Jupiter Research said for every song sold online, 100 were stolen. Ninety-four per cent of those online were unwilling to pay for music, the report added.
"I think the record companies realise their attempts to make up for lost sales are not working," Mr Klepfisz said. "The compact disc – as the main conveyer of mainstream music – is dead. So they need to look for alternatives. They need to see whether this vast mass of people can be brought into a legal arena and monetised with advertisers."
Mr Kelpfisz said punters were still willing to pay for concert tickets and merchandise. "But they are not willing to pay for music online," he said. "The idea of free music is not so radical. Commercial radio and free-to-air television is paid for by advertisers and available for free to consumers."
In the US, observers said Qtrax posed the first real threat to the Apple-owned iTunes. But Mr Klepfisz expects Qtrax will affect illegal P2P sites more and boost sales of iPods.
As the site expands it would add rare, unreleased and live concert recordings, he said. "We plan to have north of 25 million songs," Mr Klepfisz said.
Eagles star Don Henley and Annie Lennox have also been in talks to appear at today's launch.
Punters will be able to access free music after the launch at www.qtrax.com
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