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Project Red lays groundwork for subscription music service

Nonprofit, co-founded by Bono, will be selling a newsletter that serves up two MP3s and additional content for $5 per month, starting this fall.


Good news, celebrity charity aficionados: Project Red is going to be providing some music for that Bono-approved iPod Nano of yours.

The high-profile nonprofit, which donates a chunk of profits to combat AIDS in Africa, will be launching a subscription music service this fall.

The as-yet-unnamed service will launch in September, according to The New York Times, and cost $5 per month.

It's structured like a newsletter: each week, members will get an e-mail with two MP3s--one an exclusive song from a well-known act and the other from an emerging artist--as well as a "Crackerjack surprise" (say, a video) and an update on how Project Red's charity money is being put to use. The songs are DRM-free, so you won't have to own a "Red" iPod in order to listen to them. The store itself is powered by PassAlong Networks, which creates music retail stores for clients and has several contracts with record labels in place.

Half the proceeds will go to Africa, and the other half to the artists and record labels involved. Project Red has had roots in the music industry from the start; U2 frontman Bono is a co-founder of the initiative.

It's tough to gauge the success of such a project. It's being spearheaded by Red's president of content, Don MacKinnon, who previously handled music distribution at Starbucks--another program that focused on blending a selection of well-known music with emerging artists. The ubiquitous coffee chain's in-store music project hasn't been a tremendous success, as is evidenced by its decision to scale back its in-store CD sales.

Project Red's music, however, is a digital initiative, which gives it a leg up on anything involving hard copies. (When was the last time you bought a CD?) But with so much focus on ad-supported free music, you wonder who's going to fork over $5 per month for music that they don't get to choose themselves.

Still, it is for a good cause.

This post was updated at 12:12 PM with more background about the technology powering the store.