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CNET to launch indie music service

Shortly after buying the MP3.com domain name and announcing that its sprawling music archive would close, CNET Networks says it will start its own free service for independent musicians online.

Shortly after buying the MP3.com domain name and announcing that its sprawling music archive would close, CNET Networks said Wednesday it will start its own free service for independent musicians online.

MP3.com's existing database, which contains more than 1 million songs, largely from unsigned and independent musicians, will be shut down Dec. 2. But CNET said it will create a new service similar to the old MP3.com early next year, offering free storage space, uploads and downloads for artists as part of its Download.com software aggregation site.

"Download.com plans to do for musicians what it did for software developers when it launched nearly 10 years ago: give independent artists an affordable way to build a market for their work," read a note sent to MP3.com artists by CNET late on Tuesday. CNET Networks is the publisher of CNET News.com.

CNET's announcement earlier this month that it would purchase the MP3.com domain prompted a stir of resentment inside the independent music community, although the music site had lost much of cachet it enjoyed during the early dot-com years.

MP3.com's founder, Michael Robertson, sent out a message from his current company, Lindows.com, under the heading "Digital Museum Burns to the Ground." In it he called on former MP3.com owners Vivendi Universal to arrange for the preservation of the independent music archive's contents.

In its announcement Wednesday, CNET said it did not have the capacity to transfer all the old music and Web pages over to its new service, since it did not acquire the back-end database systems that formed the core of the old MP3.com, or their contents. The company's message advised artists to retain copies of everything posted on MP3.com so that they can later be posted on the new Download.com music site.

A brief message about the new site, posted on its future home page, reads: "The music community spoke, and Download.com listened." The free site will launch in early 2004, it said, but it gave few other details.

CNET has said it plans to use the MP3.com domain to launch an information service focusing on digital music. Industry insiders had said the company risked alienating a large part of its potential target audience for the new site with the closure of the original MP3.com music archive. The launch of the new independent music archive may in part be aimed at smoothing over those community dissatisfactions.

Other sites are also seeking to take advantage of the closure of the original MP3.com. Broadjam, a company that charges for similar online music archiving and distribution services, said Wednesday it would waive its $50 annual membership fee for former MP3.com artists.

At the peak of the Internet boom, several sites, including MP3.com, Riffage.com and Garageband.com, offered huge, free database and distribution services for musicians who wanted to make their music available online. None found long-term profits in the model, however.