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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

In tune with the digital music mart

By Greg Zinman and Justin Rude
Washington Post

More than a billion titles have been sold by Apple's iTunes music store, and millions of people already use digital subscription services. But if you're a newcomer to the online music scene, it's easy to be intimidated by the myriad options available.

Law-abiding online music services have been strengthening their catalogs and developing their services. While many of these companies offer the same basic product songs to stream or download the difference, unsurprisingly, is in the details.

First you need to decide what type of service works for you: a music store or a subscription service.

At an online store such as iTunes purchases are made by the song or album, and you then own the right to burn your tunes onto an audio CD.

A subscription site such as Napster generally charges a flat monthly fee to access its goods, sort of like renting instead of buying, though as of Monday, Napster has also started providing an advertiser-supported free listening service. The success of iTunes has prompted subscription sites to offer a per-song music store, too, though in most cases, once you stop paying a subscription fee, you can no longer access the site's music.

You also should consider where you want to play your music: on your computer, on a portable player, or both.

If making your music mobile is of primary importance, be sure to check if a service works with your device, be it an iPod, iRiver or Rio. And considering that most portable media players are iPods, we give you an assist by pointing out which sites will work on your new Nano.

A final factor: If you want to go the old-fashioned route, check the fine print. Many sites won't let you burn audio CDs unless you're willing to pay a little more.

Some of the top online music services at a glance:

NAPSTER

www.napster.com

Primary Platform: Windows

Cost: Free for a new service, added Monday; premium service is $9.95 monthly

Titles available: More than 1.5 million

Free trial: 7 days

iPod compatible? No

Portability: To play songs on a portable player, you must sign up for the Napster to Go service for an additional $5 monthly.

Music store: 99 cents

Our take: Napster Inc. launched a revamped music Web site Monday that allows limited free, on-demand access to more than 2 million songs. You can listen to many songs five times before having to buy a copy for 99 cents or subscribe to Napster's premium service. The free service is supported by advertising on the Napster player. Songs purchased can be transferred to portable devices. Also: Fifty-plus interactive online radio stations give you listening options aplenty, and songs to buy from five decades of searchable Billboard charts could make you a headphone historian.

AOL MUSIC NOW

aol.musicnow.com

Primary platform: Windows

Cost: $9.95 monthly

Titles available: more than 2 million

Free trial: 30 days

iPod compatible? no

Portability: yes, but you pay another $5 for it.

Music store: 99 cents

Our take: AOL Music Now gives users access to concerts such as Live 8 as well as XM Satellite Radio. It also has the support of major music labels, but finding more obscure songs and artists is difficult.

EMUSIC

www.emusic.com

Primary platform: Windows, Mac

Cost: $9.99 a month for 40 downloads, $14.99 a month for 65, $19.99 a month for 90

Titles available: more than 1 million

Free trial: 14 days

iPod compatible? Yes

Portability: yes. You own the songs and can do what you want with them.

Music store: no single sales

Our take: eMusic is a subscription service and music store hybrid, meaning you pay a monthly fee for a specific number of downloads but get to keep them even after you quit the service. While eMusic is great for fans of indie music, those looking for top-40 hits may do better elsewhere. And you don't have the unlimited access that subscription services offer.

RHAPSODY UNLIMITED

www.rhapsody.com

Primary platform: Windows

Cost: $9.99 monthly

Titles available: More than 1.8 million

Free trial: 14 days

iPod compatible? for some applications

Portability: Rhapsody to Go, the portable option, costs about $5 more a month and works only on a limited number of portable devices.

Music store: 99 cents; 89 cents for members

Our take: Downloads are very fast, thanks to an integrated RealPlayer network. Also, its search functions are very good and its catalog is extensive. But Rhapsody's many options and offerings are difficult to sort out it's hard to discern what will work with what you own.

ITUNES

www.apple.com/itunes

Primary platform: Windows, Mac

Cost: 99 cents a song (less if buying a full album)

Titles available: more than 2 million

Free trial: no

iPod compatible? yes

Portability: Apple's proprietary format means downloads can be used only on two kinds of portable players: iPods and iTunes-enabled phones.

Music store: this is the quintessential online music store that set the 99-cent song standard.

Our take: iTunes boasts the largest selection. You'll have access to exclusive tracks from such hip bands as Gorillaz, Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros. There also are downloadable podcasts, audiobooks, music videos and television shows.

YAHOO MUSIC UNLIMITED

www.music.yahoo.com

Primary platform: Windows

Cost: $4.99-$6.99 monthly

Titles available: more than 1 million

Free trial: 7 days

iPod compatible? no

Portability: Yahoo Music Unlimited to Go costs $9.99-$11.99 monthly

Music store: 99 cents

Our take: With good community and search tools, Yahoo Music Unlimited offers a number of ways to discover new music. But the de-facto tool for communication between users is Yahoo Messenger, an additional piece of software to install for most.

The Associated Press contributed information about Napster's new service, added Monday.