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Net music veteran tries sales

The Ultimate Band List is adding an e-commerce area to its music offerings when the site relaunches later this month.

Net music search directory the Ultimate Band List (UBL) is adding an e-commerce area to its offerings when the site relaunches later this month.

As the Web evolves, "veteran" sites and new arrivals alike are searching for revenue streams to augment advertising. Some have turned to charging subscription fees, such as the Wall Street Journal and Slate. Others have added e-commerce or formed partnerships to link to e-commerce sites.

Music has proven to be a popular commodity among retailers. Along with well-known Net music retailers such as CDnow and Music Boulevard, all manner of sites are getting into the music business--including television networks, booksellers, and sites for specific groups, such as women's Net community iVillage.

With the popularity of music among retailers, however, comes an increasingly crowded and diluted marketplace. Plus, the margin for sales of CDs and tapes is very small compared to that of other products.

For the UBL, the addition of commerce is not a change in its overall approach, but rather the introduction of a feature along with other new features, according to Marc Geiger, cofounder of music firm ArtistDirect, which operates the UBL.

"Our goal was to keep the same feel, but with about five times more information," Geiger said. He describes the UBL as an "organic, people-driven" site, because users are able to add links to their own sites to it.

He sees the UBL's sales strategy as different from pure music retailers and others because "we're not turning [the UBL] into a store."

"If we are supposed to be the ultimate music resource, what we did before was provide comprehensive links to information about the artists. We're still providing the links, but we're also adding content, and the ability to buy right there, instead of sending our readers elsewhere," he said. "To not have the 'Buy' button there seemed kind of foolish."

But the UBL is not taking the approach of content providers who link to music sales, either. Unlike iVillage, for example, which is working on a cobranded version of N2K's Music Boulevard store, the UBL has not aligned itself with an established retailer. Instead, order fulfillment will be done by Alliance Entertainment Corporation, which provides back-end fulfillment to other sites as well.

The strategy also differs from "traditional" Net music retailers that have paid large sums to reach the active traffic on high-profile sites and services. For example, N2K paid America Online $18 million for such a deal late last year.

The UBL--whose ad revenue is growing about 12 percent per month, according to Geiger--is not planning to "spend a great deal of money for channel placement." He added that the privately held company has no immediate plans to go public, though he doesn't rule out the possibility for the future.

Geiger also said that the UBL's retail service addresses a common complaint among online and mail order shoppers: not knowing immediately that a retailer is out of a desired product. He said the UBL will have "real-time inventory," so shoppers will know right away if an item has to be back-ordered.

The retail aspect also is "artist-driven," Geiger said, following ArtistDirect's model of creating full stores around a given artist, such as the Rolling Stones. There is retail information on artists' individual pages, along with a link to the store on the site's front page. The store is searchable by artist.

He said generally, users think of an artist before they think about a retailer, hence the strategy of placing merchandise for an artist on his or her individual page along with links, a biography, related artists, and a "Listening Room," where users can hear sound samples delivered via RealAudio.

As reported earlier, the UBL's relaunch, scheduled for April 21, will include navigation bars on the left- and right-hand sides of the screen, Geiger said. It also will feature expanded content from industry tome the All Music Guide.

Other features coming with the relaunch include a section called Who Cares, which will offer fundraising, auctions, and information for charities such as Free Tibet; and a customized UBL radio interface, created in conjunction with TheDJ.com.

"We're going to keep adding permanent features as we go," Geiger said.