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UNIVERSAL LAUNCHES SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE

Online Service Allows Unlimited Streaming Of UMG Catalog For 5,000 Lucky Farmclubbers
Becoming the first of the big five labels to do so, Universal Music has launched a trial run of its online music subscription service.

Through the subscription trial, Universal is providing about 5,000 music fans—culled from members of Jimmy and Doug's Farmclub.com—with unlimited access to more than 20,000 songs. Earlier in the year, Universal had announced plans to link with Sony Music for a subscription model, but this current test only features music from the UMG catalog.

In response to concerns over piracy, Universal's service provides music on a streaming basis, which means that participants in the program can only listen to the music, not download it.

Universal was quiet about the specifics of the test, giving neither an estimated time frame for the trial nor a target date for a wider release of the program. Some reports put the public launch at early 2001, with some talk of Sony—and perhaps even the other three majors—being involved by then.

Spurred on by the rampant popularity (and possible illegality) of Napster, all of the five major labels have announced plans to launch subscription services.

In addition, AOL has been talking to record companies about licensing their music for a subscription service, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, AOL President Robert Pittman told analysts that AOL was "actively working to put together" a service that would take online music to "mainstream consumers." Pittman declined to elaborate about the system any further.

While the trial run of the service is free, analysts expect Universal—and all the labels eventually—to charge a monthly subscription fee of approximately $15. Which, when you consider the five major labels and 12 months in a year, is just under a thousand bucks a year.

At prices like that, who would even think of downloading songs for free?

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