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Can free music downloads save newspapers?

So you think newspapers are dying? Well what if you could download free music from your local newspaper?

I was just reading through my daily news feeds when I came across this interesting little nugget of information from Techdirt.

According to the site, the Vancouver Sun gave away free compilations of songs from artists on the Nettwerk record label in an attempt to appeal to readers and make the newspaper a bit more popular. So, after reading this, I can't help but wonder--can free music downloads save newspapers? I think they can.

For the past few years, all we've heard from new media outlets was the impending death of newspapers. I agree that there is a possibility for a newspaper mass murder at the hands of the Internet, but I'm not so quick to believe it's as far-reaching as some blogs and pundits may have you think. Will local newspapers meet their demise in the wake of immediately available information? Sure. But will nation newspapers like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or USA Today just up and vanish? Not a chance.

But the argument for free music downloads is not being made for the large newspapers. Instead, I can foresee this as a viable strategy for newspapers that are the most read in a smaller area and still have the readership to stay afloat as long as it can grow overtime. And how will it grow, you ask? With free music downloads.

Any newspaper worth its paper is currently maintaining Web sites that tell the visitors about the newspaper, give the daily headlines, and especially inform them on how to subscribe to the publication. But if a newspaper instituted a free music download service, it could be hosted on the site and sign-up would be quick and easy. Of course, many are wondering how the newspaper would benefit from this arrangement, and I understand that view. But what if I told you that in order to receive free music downloads for the next year, you had to subscribe to the newspaper and keep a subscription for the same length of time you're downloading songs? For a frame of reference, my hometown newspaper charges just $25 for every 10 weeks. Not bad if you download one song every other day, right?

Now, one of the main issues with this model is getting the record labels onboard. And, unfortunately here in the United States, that will be the most difficult task. Chances are, the big four record labels wouldn't sign on to this unless they received a cut of every subscription. But judging by the current state of newspaper affairs, I don't think too many would agree to that. But maybe the major record labels aren't needed in this scheme. Sure, the big four may bring in more revenue, but any revenue is appreciated for newspapers nowadays, right?

With independent and smaller record labels joining forces with newspapers, both elements receive a benefit--newspapers finally enter the 21st century and let people download music, and smaller record labels immediately attract more people. In essence, this idea would bring independent labels to the forefront, which could, in turn, force larger labels to get into the newspaper download business. And don't even try to play the argument that free downloads hurt sales--that's pure rubbish and any analyst worth her salary would agree.

Today, just 54 percent of the U.S. population reads the newspaper during the week with a slight increase in that figure on Sundays. Obviously something needs to be done. And maybe, just maybe, free music downloads can help turn the old media tide and bring it back to its former glory.

Hey, you never know.