A correction was made to this story. See details below.
RealNetworks on Sunday announced several improvements to its Rhapsody music service, including a new online music store and integration with Verizon's V Cast mobile phone music service.
Taking a cue from competitors such as Amazon and Napster, Rhapsody's new Web-based music store sells a catalog of universally compatible (DRM-free) MP3 files from all four major music labels (Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI), as well as a selection of independents.
The new Rhapsody store represents a departure from the strictly software-based music subscription model on which the company was founded.
Rhapsody's Web-based MP3 music store offers the majority of its catalog at $.99 cents per song and $9.99 per album. While Rhapsody's MP3 pricing is competitive with the industry-leading iTunes music store, it's slightly more expensive than Amazon and considerably more expensive than eMusic.
As a competitive advantage, the new Rhapsody's store allows users to preview entire songs prior to purchase--a stark contrast to the 30-second song previews shoppers have come to expect.
To promote the launch of its new MP3 store, Rhapsody is giving away a free album to the first 100,000 people who create an account on their Web site. But Rhapsody isn't depending solely on direct MP3 sales in its quest to compete against iTunes and Amazon.
Taking advantage of last year's announced partnership with Viacom and newly announced partnerships with online destinations such as Yahoo and iLike, Rhapsody's full-length track preview technology and MP3 store will be integrated into several music sites across the Web.
Initially, users can expect to see Rhapsody-powered music playback and MP3 purchasing options from Viacom-owned Web properties such as MTV, CMT, and VH1. In addition, Rhapsody's MP3 store will be added as a purchase option for users of iLike, a popular music-focused social network and Facebook application.
As reported earlier on News.com, mobile carrier Verizon is also working with Rhapsody to provide their V Cast Music customers over-the-air music downloads. Using the new system, V Cast Music customers will be able to download low bit-rate versions of purchased songs directly to their handset, and access higher resolution 256kbps MP3 versions which are downloaded to their computer. Users can later replace their phone's low-quality file with the higher quality version, once the phone is connected to their computer.
[Note: the New models of Verizon phones will also be capable of working with Rhapsody's preexisting DRM-restricted music subscription service, which allows unlimited music downloads at a flat, monthly fee. Verizon customers who choose to pay for a Rhapsody music subscription have the option of adding Rhapsody's monthly fee to their existing mobile phone bill.
The new V Cast Rhapsody mobile music download service will be available tomorrow for all V Cast-enabled phones, however, carrier fees associated with the service have yet to be announced.
Correction: The story originally stated that Verizon's over-the-air music service downloaded DRM-free MP3 files directly to the user's handset. It was later learned that Verizon's direct-to-phone music download is not in the MP3 format. The copy delivered to the user's computer, however, is in the MP3 format.