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Listen.com warms to CD burning

The music service provider says an upgrade of its Rhapsody subscription service, expected next month, will allow people to copy a limited number of classical recordings onto CDs.

Listen.com said Monday that it plans to let some songs on its digital music service be copied onto CDs, a step toward allowing its subscribers to play music when they want, where they want.

The music service provider said that each month, subscribers to its Rhapsody service will be able to burn onto CDs a limited number of tracks from classical music label Naxos of America. Listen.com plans to offer the feature, which will use NewTech Infosystems' CD-Writing Engine, in its Rhapsody 1.5, expected in next month.

Naxos' catalog comprises more than 2,500 titles and over 10,000 audio recordings.

The Listen.com announcement pushes the company in a direction long recommended by analysts: portability. Analysts agree that most people will not be interested in paying for digital music unless they can listen to the tunes anywhere.

Some rival subscription services are already testing portable features. Pressplay, backed by a consortium of major record labels, lets subscribers transfer a limited number of songs to CDs each month. Another service by RioPort allows people to download music onto MP3 players. But MusicNet, another major label-supported service, does not provide burning capabilities or allow downloads to portable devices.

"Making digital music portable is an essential component of any online music service," said Susan Kevorkian, a research analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based research firm. Although the current Listen.com deal only relates to classical music, she said the company's other licensing deals "bode well in terms of delivering a comprehensive online music service to consumers in the near term."

Listen.com has licensed music from four of the Big Five record labels: Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, BMG Entertainment and EMI Recorded Music. While the deals give Listen.com access to more tunes than MusicNet and Pressplay, Listen.com has yet to win major distributors for its service, signing up only Internet service provider Speakeasy.net among its corporate customers. In contrast, Pressplay is found on Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN; MusicNet is distributed on America Online and through RealNetworks' software.

Listen.com said it is negotiating with its other record label partners to secure additional CD burning licenses.

"Listen.com recognizes that consumers want to take some of their music with them," Listen.com Chief Executive Sean Ryan said in a statement. "Our agreements with (NewTech Infosystems) and Naxos are important first steps towards meeting those needs."

Rhapsody subscribers can choose between two price options: "Naxos Classical" for $5.95 a month, or "All Access" for $9.95 a month. Listen.com said it will release pricing for CD-burning packages next month.