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FullAudio nabs all labels for relaunch

The company launches a revamped version of its music subscription service and says it finally has rights to distribute music from all five major record labels.

FullAudio launched a revamped version of its music subscription service Wednesday and said it finally had rights to distribute music from all five major record labels.

With the announcement, FullAudio, which has struck deals with EarthLink and Clear Channel for distribution, joins rivals Pressplay, MusicNet and Listen.com Rhapsody with rights to distribute most of the catalogs from the big labels. However, as with other services, large gaps remain where rights have not been cleared with artists or song publishers.

FullAudio says it is focusing on a new way of organizing online music with the relaunch of its service. Whereas other music subscription services typically model themselves after giant databases or Yahoo-like directories, with genre categories, FullAudio's new MusicNow service pushes listeners toward genre "channels" that have some disc jockey-like programming included.

"MusicNow is on the forefront of a?shift beyond the labor-intensive 'search and browse' database model developed by Napster and toward an experience that's attractive to (new online music) enthusiasts," FullAudio CEO Scott Kauffman said in a statement. "We're pleased to offer them the easiest-to-use and most entertaining digital music service on the market."

FullAudio was one of the earliest independent subscription service companies to begin winning licenses from the major record labels. It scored a few early distribution coups, striking partnerships with EarthLink, Pressplay and Microsoft, but has nevertheless maintained a lower profile than rivals Pressplay, MusicNet and Listen.com.

The overall music subscription market is beginning to mature, after a year spent scrambling after licenses to distribute music, rather than racing for market share.

A new, much-improved version of MusicNet launched last month inside the America Online service, bringing authorized subscription music downloads to that audience for the first time. MusicNet parent RealNetworks has diversified its interests, taking a minority stake in Listen.com last month. Pressplay parent Sony has taken its own minority share in rival service MusicNet, according to a recent Reuters report.

The various services are now doing their best to tailor their interfaces to the desires of online listeners, hoping that ease of use will help their paid products compete with the ongoing threat of the free file-swapping services such as Kazaa.

America Online said it spent months focus testing and tailoring its version of MusicNet to ensure it had the features its customer base desired. FullAudio says its channel-based service--which also includes the more familiar ability to search by artist or song name--is based on research into the preferences of a demographic it calls "New Enthusiasts," or a set of online music fans the company believes bridges the gap between early adopters and the mass mainstream music audience.

Like the other download-based services, FullAudio's service does come with restrictions. Songs can be downloaded only to a PC, and can be listened to only as long as the computer's owner remains a subscriber. Permanent downloads that can be transferred to mobile devices or burned to a CD can be purchased for 99 cents per song.

The basic, unlimited-listen service costs $9.95 per month. A cheaper service that offers access to Net radio stations, but not on-demand downloads, is available for $4.95 per month.