January 19, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Digital music spins new sales approach
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Analysts say that subscription services need to spend far more time explaining their version of legal music swapping to the public before the approach will become a significant draw.
"I think (playlists) will be an important feature that many people will eventually use," said Jupiter Research analyst David Card. "But it will have to be promoted to death."
Digital music's baby steps
Indeed, after all the headlines about iPod sales and the impending death of CDs, it's easy to forget just how unfamiliar digital music remains to most people.
According to a recent Jupiter Research survey, just 16 percent of online adults listened to music using a playlist in 2005, up from 9 percent in 2004. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 43 percent listened to playlists in 2005, up from 19 percent in 2004.
Only 2 percent of adults now online, or 9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, actually shared playlists during 2005, the Jupiter study found.
For now, most consumers say they're more interested in price, virus-free music and the amount of music available, Card said.
Many of the big services are still in the process of adding technology that makes legal digital music sharing more simple.
Yahoo launched its initial subscription service last spring, with features that allow subscribers to post playlists online, and send song links to one another through Yahoo's chat software. The company hasn't said what, if anything, it plans to do with the Webjay playlist site.
"We're really trying to educate people about subscription music first and foremost," said Yahoo spokeswoman Charlene English. "Community sharing and discovery has always been a priority for us."
Rhapsody, which has always allowed people to e-mail playlists to one another, recently moved much of its service onto the Web. The new version of the service allows even nonsubscribers to click on playlists like those at Burke's site and hear the first 25 songs for free.
For its part, Apple allows iTunes users to publish their playlists in the iMix portion of the iTunes store. However, without purchasing the songs, users can hear only a sample of each song on the playlist. An iTunes customer can also purchase a playlist as a gift for a friend.
But until these services are able to introduce the sharing features to more people, the playlist sharing phenomenon may well stay in the grassroots.
For committed mix-makers like Burke, whose site now attracts about 50,000 hits a month, that's only fair. He's still waiting for more songs to be available, and for features that make sharing music through the subscription services even simpler.
"Ultimately, there will be a true celestial jukebox, where everything is available," Burke said. "Then you can have playlists available that don't have gaps. That's what I'm trying to get to."
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