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MySpace Music makes its debut

Backed by the four major record labels, the service could pose a real challenge to Apple--but it won't be easy.

Update Sept. 25, 4:47 a.m. PDT: MySpace and the four record labels have officially unveiled MySpace Music.

NEW YORK--Media mogul Rupert Murdoch will officially take on Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Thursday.

That's when MySpace is expected to launch MySpace Music, the music service formed by the world's second largest social network and all four of the largest recording companies, executives from the News Corp.-owned social network said Wednesday.

MySpace executives said the EMI Group, which took much longer to join the venture than its three competitors, will make its entire music library available to the venture. MySpace has also partnered with Sony ATV, which partners with indie distributors like The Orchard, Alternative Distribution Alliance, Caroline, RED, and Fontana.

The service represents the most significant challenge to Apple--at least in terms of firepower--in some time. This is the first time the top labels have all joined in taking a stake in an iTunes competitor.

A MySpace Music playlist. MySpace

Among the many challenges the service faces is that it offers no hardware solution. Apple can provide everything a music listener needs--hardware and software. MySpace hasn't attached itself to any popular music player, primarily because the iPod has such a huge market share. MySpace will sell songs, which will come from Amazon, in the MP3 format. This means they are not locked in digital rights management and will play on the iPod and most other devices.

MySpace has long been an Internet concert hall, where bands went to market their wares to the Web, and that's a big part of the reason why the Los Angeles-based site rose to fame in 2004. According to MySpace, 65 percent of its users already have streaming music on their profiles and six billion songs are played every month. On the flip side, neither MySpace nor News Corp., has much experience in music retail; consider that Apple has zoomed past Wal-Mart to music retail's top spot. Some critics have said that something like MySpace Music should have been in place on the site years ago.

But after reviewing the site with the help of Steve Pearman, MySpace's senior vice president of product strategy, it's clear the site has a few things going for it.

The coolest thing I saw was the site's streaming music player. A person can search for music from all four major labels, drag as many as 100 songs into a playlist area and then listen to complete songs without paying a dime. Of course, the music is restricted to PCs and can't be downloaded to mobile devices. Sites like Imeem and (owned by CBS Interactive, which publishes CNET News) also have significant head starts in this area, and streaming playlists are integral to the distribution strategy at iLike, another music start-up that has a very close relationship with MySpace rival Facebook.

What MySpace doesn't do is send users to another site to buy. On MySpace Music, the music listed on an artist's profile page will have "Add" and "Buy" buttons. A user can either hit add to include a song to a playlist or hit buy to instantly purchase the music. Amazon users won't even need to create a new purchasing profile. They can use their existing accounts.

The inaugural advertisers on MySpace Music are McDonalds, State Farm, Toyota, and Sony Pictures Entertainment--which will, conveniently, be advertising on all MySpace Music playlists for a week with ads for its forthcoming teen flick, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. That's just a little too perfect.

In addition to advertising support, marketing campaigns, (Toyota will be giving away free songs on Tuesdays, for example) and the Amazon MP3 partnership, MySpace Music will also sell ringtones through a partnership with Jamster. Some speculated that concert tickets and merchandise would also be sold somehow through the store, but that's not present at launch.

MySpace now has more than 120 million users worldwide, according to ComScore.

CNET News' Caroline McCarthy contributed to this report.