EMI makes tracks

Diskery puts tunes online via Qtrax

EMI is giving its entire library a digital boost.

The diskery, coming off a shaky year that has resulted in talks of a merge with the smaller but more financially robust Warner Music Group, has made available its entire digital catalog on the soon-to-be-launched Qtrax service, which will offer tracks via peer-to-peer network Gnutella.

Users will be able to listen to tracks gratis — but with ads — for a limited number of times before the tracks expire. Ads will be featured in both audio and video formats, the latter on pop-up boxes that open on users’ computer screens.

EMI also announced it will become the first label to make its catalog available for sale via Qtrax, which will be offered on both a subscription and a la carte basis. Qtrax is said to be actively courting other music firms.

Qtrax is a service from Gotham-based tech firm LTDnetwork that aims to compete with for-fee music services like iTunes and Rhapsody through ad-supported as well as a la carte and subscription models.

EMI deal is a coup of sorts for firm; four years ago the service was scotched over piracy fears.

This time, the company says, the technology has sufficiently improved to prevent illegal copying. Service could relaunch as early as 2006, pending agreements with other major music firms.

News marks the latest phase of the music biz’s evolution from an industry fiercely opposed to peer-to-peer networking to one willing to embrace it, however cautiously, as a means to increase revenues.

And even though the free peer-to-peer tracks will be largely promotional, with a strong “upsell” component that urges customers to pay to download tracks, plan will be a bellwether of whether the music biz can find hope in ads.

If the ad-supported system works, diskeries might find a new revenue stream at a time when many music execs say a la carte and subscription models aren’t viable in the long term.

But questions abound — not least the fact that many tracks from EMI and other catalogs remain readily available, but illegally, on the same peer-to-peer networks on which services like Qtrax will be available. Service is creating a point system that can be redeemed for free downloads, but a question remains: Will it be enough to spur users to download a song with ads if they can get the same song without them?

Neither party revealed financial details, but Qtrax and EMI probably will share advertising revenue as well as download fees.

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