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Pressplay adds meat to music menu

The upcoming service for online music subscriptions, backed by Sony and Vivendi Universal, is licensing a database filled with songs, albums and artist information.

Pressplay, a joint venture between Sony and Vivendi Universal, said Tuesday that it has licensed a database filled with songs, albums and artist information for its upcoming online subscription service.

Alliance Entertainment said Pressplay will be able to choose songs from Alliance's All Music Guide, which contains 3.5 million tracks and more than 495,000 album listings. The database also includes artist biographies, album reviews, genres, and discographies with album ratings, similar artists and influences.

The announcement comes as Pressplay and rival MusicNet--backed by RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group--move closer to launching their services. The major labels have been signing deals with music publishers and preparing preview versions of the paid services.

While Pressplay and MusicNet hope to provide legal alternatives to popular file-swapping service Napster and its progeny, analysts say the new subscription services still have significant hurdles to overcome if they want to appeal to consumers accustomed to finding free music online.

Research analyst Susan Kevorkian of IDC said there are still many services that deliver free music, such as Audiogalaxy, MusicCity and others. She said the labels' services must entice consumers to pay for streamed and downloadable tracks and away from spending the same money to purchase CDs they can keep and share.

"By partnering with Alliance, it's a way for Pressplay to differentiate their service and to add value to consumers by giving more information about artists and albums and other aspects of the music," Kevorkian said.

Another potential roadblock is a Justice Department investigation into whether the recording industry has engaged in unfair licensing practices. The investigation will dig into the operations of MusicNet and Pressplay and will examine licensing terms for access to the labels' coveted song libraries.

Pressplay, which will be carried on Yahoo and the Microsoft Network, planned to launch in September but delayed that release last month. The service has said it is on track to launch nationally this fall but has not specified a date.

Despite the delays and hurdles, Pressplay is betting that its partnership with Alliance will boost the company's offerings.

"Pressplay felt that a partnership with (All Music Guide) will make our service even stronger in terms of content for our fans and for our future customers," said Seth Oster, a spokesman for Pressplay. "Alliance has a very strong reputation and an enormous amount of valuable information for anyone who loves music."