Company closes in on Listen.com buy

HOLLYWOOD — RealNetworks is replacing the label-backed online music service MusicNet with its own just-acquired Rhapsody service, and cutting the cost of copying tracks by a fifth, to 79¢ apiece.

The moves represent the other shoe dropping on Real’s month-old deal to buy Rhapsody’s parent company, Listen.com, for $36 million. That deal is expected to close later this year.

Now, the subscription-based RealOne Rhapsody service will replace MusicNet beginning today in offerings to Real’s million subscribers to its various online services.

For an additional $9.95 a month, Rhapsody subscribers will have unlimited access to 330,000 songs that Rhapsody has licensed.

They also can buy downloadable copies of about 200,000 of those songs that they want to keep and copy onto recordable CDs, for 79¢ a track.

That’s a cut of 20¢ per track for Listen, and is 20¢ less per track than the wildly successful new music-selling service recently launched by Apple Computers.

The Apple service works only on computers the company has made, but the company is already building a service that will work on Windows-based PCs. Even with the tiny market share of Apple Computers, the Apple Music Store sold more than 2 million songs in its first two weeks of operation.

“I think you can interpret (the Real and Listen announcements) as a sign that we and others are pretty damned serious about being players in this market,” said Real marketing VP Dan Sheeran. “It’s fair to say that Apple focused us on the importance of solidifying our leadership on the Windows platform. We clearly recognize there’s a window (of time) here for us to leverage that leadership.”

Real will remain a MusicNet investor along with the Warner, EMI and BMG record labels, and will continue to provide MusicNet’s technology backbone.

MusicNet will continue to be available as the online music seller on AOL, a corporate cousin of Warner Music.

The competing pressplay music service, which was backed by Sony Music and Universal Music Group, also just changed hands, being sold last week to software maker Roxio.

Roxio said it would combine Pressplay’s technology and music licenses with the assets of the defunct peer-to-peer service Napster, which it also recently bought.

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