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Could a streaming service for classical music succeed?

Classical music site Passionato has received some criticism for not offering a subscription model, but could an ad-supported streaming version work?

After reading my hands-on coverage of classical music site Passionato, musician Drew McManus offered a fair criticism, commenting that I focused solely -- and too positively -- on the download-to-own model the site uses, and lamented the lack of criticism I gave to Passionato for not offering a subscription streaming option.

I was curious. eMusic -- with 400,000 subscribers and no major label backing -- has proved that subscription download models work if sans-DRM. Yet Napster has just 300,000 more customers than eMusic, despite the catalogues of every major record label. That's nowhere near iTunes' customer count of 65,000,000.

But apart from Napster's incompatibility with iPods -- a major reason for its limited success -- Napster's most oft-heard criticism is that no-one wants to pay to just 'rent' music.

In response to an email McManus sent to Passionato, the site's European director of marketing and business, Rob Gotlieb, explained: "Our research told us that classical music lovers are usually collectors... [They] don't like the subscription model, in which music is basically rented as opposed to being actually owned." My point exactly.

Yet, according to McManus, a streaming classical music site would open the door to a larger number of classical music fans. I admit, this is news to me. Typically these fans, myself included, cite low bit rates as the main reason not to purchase downloadable music -- yet streaming music is typically encoded no higher.

But there could be a solution. Pandora and Last.fm have become popular for building free, ad-supported streaming music services. This gets around the downloaded DRM Napster has suffered from, and gets around the weak bit rate issue, as it's simply complementary to more traditional purchasing options.

So could a classical version of Last.fm really see success? Is Passionato missing a trick? Let me know in the comments.