QTrax, the long-delayed free music service, is finally launching. The service is supposed to go live at 12:00 am eastern Sunday, and the company will hold a press conference to discuss the launch a few hours later at the Midem music conference in Cannes.
QTrax is essentially billing itself as a legal, ad-supported version of the P2P services that are killing the music business. That’s a tall order, and we are sceptical that the QTrax folks can make it work. We haven’t tried the service ourselves, but the gist is this:
* Users will have to download a proprietary program, built on the open source Songbird platform. The program is QTrax’s all-in-one search engine, player and revenue generator. You’ll have to download songs via the software, and play them on the software, which is where the service will serve up display ads. It will give the labels about two-thirds of each dollar of ad revenue it generates — essentially the same split that AAPL offers now for its download sales. If you’re an anti-DRM fanatic, you can stop reading here – the downloads will have a DRM wrapper.
*QTrax says all four major labels are on board, but the labels says that’s not the case. Warner Music Group (WMG) says it doesn’t have a deal with the service, and a person close to the company says Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music label, is talking to QTrax but hasn’t signed anything. If QTrax can’t solve its licensing problem, everything else is moot.
*The service is PC-only, but QTrax says it will have a Mac version available by March 18th. It says its player will be allow you to import all of your existing music, including music purchased on iTunes or other services.
*The killer: QTrax songs can’t be played on iPods, which means it’s at best a complementary service for most people. QTrax says that will change “eventually”, but since Apple has zero interest in opening up its closed system and has fought furiously against other attempts, we’re not betting on it.
There are plenty of other questions about QTrax. For instance, a public offering that was supposed to happen last spring, then last summer, then last fall, is still supposedly in the works. And the jury is out on how attractive display ads on music players will be for marketers. And we wonder how much cash and/or equity the company has spent getting this up and running — other free services have had to make major concessions to the labels.
But all of those concerns are secondary. The big one: In order for QTrax to work, it has to provide users a service that’s at least as good as the free P2P services. Right now, with an offering that doesn’t let users play its music on the world’s most popular music player, it isn’t.
Update: WMG: We don’t have a deal with QTrax
See Also: Free Music Service QTrax: Public Soon, Launch By Dec.; Dead By Spring?
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