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Listen.com turns toward business market

Following a time-worn Internet path, the online music directory says it is shifting its focus from direct consumer marketing to a business-to-business approach.

Following a time-worn Internet path, online music directory Listen.com says it is shifting its focus from direct consumer marketing to a business-to-business approach.

The company plans to announce Thursday a new streaming music service built from technology inherited from WiredPlanet, a company it bought in September. But Listen.com executives also are using the announcement to draw attention to their new emphasis on syndicating the company's services to other businesses, rather than on a direct approach to consumers.

"We've established ourselves as the music experts on the Web by syndicating our comprehensive online music directory to most of the top portals and entertainment sites," Listen.com president Sean Ryan said in a statement. "Our goal is to expand our syndication offerings to meet all of the online music needs that our partners have."

Listen.com opened its digital doors in mid-1999 with the goal of becoming one of the Web's most comprehensive directories to digital music. Funded partly by the major record labels, it has successfully steered clear of the legal battles that have enmeshed more controversial services such as MP3.com and Napster.

But in recent weeks, the company has shown signs of straying from its original directory-only goals. Last week, it made a bid for the assets of Scour, a Napster-like file-swapping service that filed for bankruptcy protection in October.

Other companies may still outbid Listen.com for these assets, but if it does walk away with Scour's technology, the directory will likely morph more directly into a music distribution service.

Thursday's announcement of a Webcasting service marks another step away from the directory business. The service will serve partly as a promotional tool for partners, with some "channels" programmed by the likes of SubPop Records or Interscope. But the company also hopes to make money selling the streaming music service to other companies, such as retail stores that want specific types of music played in their outlets, for example.

The company's shift to a syndication model from its onetime consumer focus highlights the struggles of many online music companies in finding business models that work online.

Nevertheless, Listen.com is one of the few companies in the online music business still financially stable enough to be in acquisition mode. Many other first-generation companies are running out of cash, laying off employees, or finding themselves in positions where selling appears to be a better alternative than simply going out of business.

The company has been syndicating almost since its creation; Yahoo, About.com, Lycos, Excite@Home and other big portals carry its directory services.