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Rolling Stone updates music hub

Rolling Stone is entering the "destination" site race with the launch of a hub site aimed at music lovers, dubbed Tunes.com.

Rolling Stone today is entering the "destination" site race with the launch of a hub site aimed at music lovers, dubbed Tunes.com.

Tunes.com was born from JamTV, which operates the Rolling Stone Network, the august magazine's effort to offer online music lovers a host of features in one site.

The goal of Tunes.com is to be "the biggest music destination on the Web," said Howard Tullman, chief executive of the Rolling Stone Network.

The site's launch comes amid a flurry of activity online among large offline media companies. Many are rolling out their own "destination" sites, or announcing plans to do so. Just last week, Viacom, the parent of music giants MTV and VH1, announced plans to roll out a music hub of its own, with the working title the "Buggles Project," which will compete directly with Tunes.com. Tunes.com has the advantage of being first to market; however, both have powerful offline brand recognition and marketing muscle.

Other media giants also are pushing for a stronger Web presence. Media behemoth Time Warner--which launched destination site ACMEcity in January--has been the subject of speculation about its Web strategy moving forward. Disney joined the destination site fray in January with its Go Network.

While the concept of aiming to be a destination on the Web is not new, there has been a notable move away from the simple content aggregation and feature stockpiling found in the portals such as Yahoo and Excite. The newer destinations are replacing content aggregation with familiar content brands that attract Web surfers, TV viewers, magazine readers, and the like.

Rolling Stone, for its part, is banking on the idea that "as newbies continue to flood the Web, they are going to be even more inclined to go to what they know," as in established offline brands like Rolling Stone, Tullman said. Viacom, no doubt, is looking to leverage that same loyalty.

Tunes.com brings together content from Rolling Stone magazine as well as that of hip-hop magazine The Source and jazz magazine Down Beat, online music with Rolling Stone Radio, almost 1 million song clips, more than 1,000 full-length videos, Webcast concerts, photos, album reviews, and, of course, e-commerce. Tunes.com also offers fans a variety of community features such as message boards and album reviews and ratings by fellow fans.

The other popular music sites "have a small piece of the larger puzzle--we have the whole thing," Tullman said.

Users can register for free by answering questions about their music-buying habits as well as household income, gender, age, and other demographic information. Though users are assured their data won't be visible to other members, registering gives them access to the community areas on the site, where other members can see what they have listed as their musical preferences.

Tunes.com initially will draw revenue from e-commerce (the site will get a cut from sales that come from it) and ad sales. Tullman noted that the site's personalization features--which allow users to rate albums, for example--can provide advertisers with valuable data to help target ads. Advertisers also can "exploit the wealth of demographic data we have from the publications," he said.

The site also will allow users to download music via an array of technologies including a2b, Liquid Audio, and the controversial MP3 format--though Tullman pointed out that Tunes.com will "work with the record labels on MP3."

Tunes.com is offering downloads because "the new model [for music sales] will be renting music as long as you're interested in it," instead of paying a fee for a physical CD that the user then owns, Tullman said.