Hoping Free Songs Get Subscribers Streaming In

By Leslie Walker
Sunday, May 1, 2005

Music subscription services may make economic sense to those selling them, but most customers have yet to agree. RealNetworks Inc. seems determined to change that with a 25-free-songs-a-month listening service it introduced Tuesday.

In return for letting ads display on the computer screen while the music plays, anyone can listen to 25 full-length songs each month from RealNetwork's Rhapsody library of 1 million songs ( http://www.real.com/ ). The tunes can only be streamed, not downloaded to computers or copied to portable players.

Will 25 freebies be enough to persuade people to "rent" music by paying monthly fees? Not likely, especially given the annoying, three-tiered pricing plan RealNetworks introduced last week. But the company clearly hopes the giveaway will draw more sign-ups for its Rhapsody subscription plan, which it expanded with new options.

The freebie service is not a bad deal for sampling new music. You don't need a credit card, just an e-mail address, to download the Rhapsody 25 jukebox software (Windows only) and start listening. You can play 25 different songs one time each, or a single tune up to 25 times.

The company renamed its existing subscription service Rhapsody Unlimited and kept the price at $10 a month. In addition to unlimited streaming, this plan now allows unlimited songs to be downloaded to a computer -- though they will stop playing if a user stops paying the monthly fee. Removing that expiration date costs 89 cents a song.

Real also introduced a new portable music service called Rhapsody to Go that costs $5 more a month than the unlimited plan and contains the same features, plus the ability to transfer any tune in Rhapsody's library to portable players. The players, however, must be compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s latest digital rights management software, which excludes Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod.

And since the iPod is the most popular portable music player on the market, Rhapsody to Go isn't likely to go far anytime soon.

A Datebook Download

Trumba, a hyper-calendar service debuting this week, will let people create, manage and share a new kind of personal and group calendar over the Web.

Trumba's OneCalendar service concludes a closed trial and starts a public beta test on Wednesday. The service will be free for at least several months, but eventually Seattle-based Trumba intends to charge an annual fee of less than $50. Co-founder Dennis Tevlin is convinced people will pay. "What we are providing people are not used to getting for free," he said.

Trumba does offer impressive capabilities, such as the ability to give friends and groups the ability to see any of your calendars and add events. People can also integrate into their own calendars those of their friends or organizations and teams such as soccer leagues and the Nationals.

Trumba calendars are maintained on the Web, allowing viewing from any browser. They can also be viewed offline, using a download that allows Trumba calendars to be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook.


Personal Postage Returns

No Monica Lewinsky blue dresses or naked ladies, please. The U.S. Postal Service is giving custom postage another spin, hoping vendors will screen personalized postage images more closely to avoid the embarrassments -- for example, stamps featuring the Unabomber's visage -- that marred a trial last year.

The USPS announced these plans last week, saying this second test would run one year. The goal is to let customers personalize postage by submitting their own digital images to approved vendors, including Stamps.com Inc. and Pitney Bowes Inc. Vendors convert the images into "PC Postage" that contains special bar codes and looks like stamps. Stamps.com is already taking orders online, charging $16.99 for a single sheet of 20 stamps.


E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com .

© 2005 The Washington Post Company