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CNET SITE TRIES AD-SUPPORTED FREE MUSIC DOWNLOADS

New Music.Download.Com Offers MP3s of Unsigned Musicians

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- CNET Networks, which has been running an ad-supported free-software download site for eight years, is now attempting to do the same thing with a free music download site.
The new Music.Download.com is part of CNET's larger Download.com site.
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The San Francisco-based online media giant, which employs 1,700 and reported 2003 sales of $246 million, yesterday announced that the new music download site had gone live as music.download.com, a part of its larger download.com site.

CNET's strategy is to offer free downloads of songs by artists who are not signed with major record labels. The musicians themselves upload their own work onto music.download.com. There is no quality threshold. Anyone can upload their own songs to the site.

Eclectic content
One of the groups headlined on music.download.com's first day was Silverman, a four-member band from Cheltenham, England. The group's uploaded song "Ctrl Alt Del" is categorized as "Adult Alternative Pop/Rock." It includes the lyrics, "You took our love into the basement/You put a bullet through its head."

Each day, the magazine-like front page of music.download.com changes to showcase five different musicians. Visitors can also search through an archive of song categories from classical and children's music to hip-hop, jazz and new age. Users can also define their own categories and at least one group yesterday offered its music in the category of "dream music." All songs are downloadable as MP3 files.

Conceptually, the site appears to offer the tedium of plowing through thousands of wannabe bands but the potential of discovering really good ones before they get their big break.

MP3.com
In a separate but related move, CNET is also preparing to launch MP3.com, a defunct Web site it acquired last year, as a "music information" site. The exact functions and content of the redesigned MP3.com are not clear. However, the placeholder home page currently at MP3.com already links to music.download.com.

The company declines to provide figures for its overall or sectional online advertising revenue. However, recent advertisers across the CNET's constellation of online properties have included Dell, Microsoft Corp., Google, Yahoo!, Macromedia, Adobe Systems and Winzip.

According to Scott Arpajian, senior vice president of CNET Download.com, the gamut of potential advertisers for music.download.com include online music retailers, computer hardware manufacturers such as Dell and Microsoft, and makers of MP3 players. All offer products that appeal to the site's target audience of 18 to 34 year olds, he said.

No advertisers signed yet
However, no advertisers have been signed for music.download.com yet, CNET spokeswoman Leslie Dotson said. She said negotiations with potential sponsors are under way but declined to provide further details.

Operations of the free music download site will mirror those of the company's free software section. Eight years ago, Download.com began offering free downloads of freeware and shareware. Initially, the samples were mostly created by independent developers, Mr. Arpajian said. Now, Download.com's software section is a major venue for the products of large software manufacturers such as Adobe and America Online, which put out "trial software."

75 million a month
According to CNET, Download.com users download more than 75 million software files each month.

"We know from their downloading behavior that audio- and music-related content are important to our audience," Mr. Arpajian said.

Some industry insiders say the CNET plan has plenty of potential and could benefit musicians as well as advertisers focused on a younger, music-downloading audience. Some 53% of men in the 18-to-34 age group visited a music site in October 2003, according to comScore Media Metrix.

"The music promotional opportunities online are shrinking," said Ben Patterson, director of new media at entertainment management company The Firm. "Two or three years ago, there were dozens of music sites, like getmusic.com and rollingstone.com. Now those sites have been purchased by other entities."

On the paid content side, the online music and radio segment grew by 148% in 2003 over 2002, more than any other category of paid content, according to eMarketer. Spending on music content was $42.3 million in 2003.

Attraction of free downloads
"This points to the greater attraction of downloading music," said David Hallerman, senior analyst at New York-based research firm eMarketer. "CNET could attract an audience depending on what they are giving away."

"If CNET has a combination of paid and unpaid content, and if they could keep the prices reasonable like iTunes has at 99 cents, then that could work," Mr. Hallerman said. A mix of signed and unsigned groups may please more consumers. "Ultimately, what drives people to a music site is to find the music they want," Mr. Patterson said.

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