The deal temporarily gives Listen.com access to more music than its major label-backed rivals, MusicNet and PressPlay. All three are competing for a share of the nascent music subscription market.
As yet, Listen.com hasn't made considerable strides in securing distributors for its service, having signed up only Internet service provider Speakeasy.net among its corporate customers. By contrast, MusicNet is distributed on America Online and through RealNetworks' software, and Pressplay can be found on Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN.
Nevertheless, reaching four of the five big music labels' content is a good sign for the small company's service as it tries to outstay its bigger rivals.
"This puts them out ahead of everyone else," said P.J. McNealy, research director with GartnerG2, a division of the Gartner research firm. "It helps along their business model--and helps anyone in digital music--to get closer to five" label deals.
None of the services have yet released subscriber figures. All three released early versions of their services in late December, but the companies have been upgrading content and features quietly since.
Other independents are also in the game. FullAudio, which also has rights to several labels' catalogs, will see its subscription service on Clear Channel radio Web sites. Rioport is also offering a service which will allow downloads of music onto MP3 players.
Listen.com continues to go through hard times as it hunkers down for months more without appreciable revenue. Although a representative said the company still has considerable cash on hand, the company recently laid off several people and instituted an across-the-board pay cut.
"We still have a lot of money in the bank," spokesman Matt Graves said. "That had everything to do with controlling costs for the company."