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It’s the service’s genre-specificity that suggests real possibilities.
LIQUID/EMI CHRISTIAN SUB SERVICE: BURN IN HEAVEN
BurnITFIRST Service Floats New Sub Model—Can They Get a Witness?
Praise the Lord, it’s another online subscription service!

Well, this one’s a little different—and not just because its first, um, incarnation consists entirely of Christian music.

In fact, the BurnITFIRST offering from Liquid Audio and EMI Christian Music Group may be closer to answering the prayers of online music fans than some of its competitors, and not only because it emphasizes the burning of subscribers’ music to CD. But let’s deal with the technical details first.

For $9.95 per month, subscribers will have access to 20 tracks, which can be burned to CD or exported to portable players. The tracks don’t "time out" (evaporate) if the subscription is terminated. Subscribers can fork over an extra $4.95 for five more tracks.

Users can preview tracks as well as download them. Unused downloads from users monthly allotments don’t carry over to the following month. Yes, once the music is burned to CD it can be copied indefinitely, ripped to MP3, blah de blah de blah.

But VU/Sony joint venture Pressplay also offers burning of some tracks as part of its subscription package, and Listen.com's streaming Rhapsody platform just completed a deal to offer CD-burning capability for its classical fans (see story, 4/15).

The fact that BurnITFIRST offers exclusively EMI CMG artists like CeCeWinans, Phil Keaggy and Simply Worship may cause some mainstream journalists—who’ve been demanding Napster’s return from the grave ever since Judge Patel first banged a gavel—to dismiss it as a mere curiosity.

But it’s the service’s genre-specificity that suggests real possibilities. Bear with me here.

The model of an all-you-can-eat online music service sounds great, in theory. Until you try to license everything and encounter obstacle after obstacle (and yes, the Liquid/EMI CMG service suffers from some of these same limitations). In attempting to please everyone, the today’s-hits-online model runs the risk of pleasing no one, and invariably suffers in comparison to the file-sharing junkshop that is Morpheus, KaZaA, Grokster, et al.

The only force that reliably drives traffic to online services is community. Whether the audience is into Jesus or Satan (and the latter’s a hint as to one upcoming version of this same model), they’re far more likely to patronize a service that addresses their interests than one that generically offers "music."

The Christian market will serve as an instructive barometer for BurnITFIRST and any future variations thereof, since it has a loyal base bound by "lifestyle" as well as musical taste. If the enticement of an authorized domain for downloadable, burnable, exportable music can produce that base in sufficient number, the opportunity arises to appeal to the shared interests of said base to extend subscriptions and virally expand the audience.

If Liquid and its partners can present themselves as a filter, directing fans of major acts in a particular style or format to lesser-known (or virtually unknown) ones they might like—as well as provide other kinds of unique content—they could gain a foothold in the very challenging subscription race.

Now, let us pray.

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