DRM-Free At Last: Rhapsody Finally Lands MP3s

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Rhapsody owners RealNetworks and MTV Networks have now unveiled an MP3-based download store, part of a slow DRM-free rollout by major labels.

The shift opens access to the coveted iPod, a massive roadblock that has frustrated RealNetworks for years.

Roughly five million MP3s from all four major labels and various independents are now accessible at 99-cents each.  It remains unclear what label demands – financial or otherwise – accompanied the licensing shift.

The move only relates to the a-la-carte download section of the store, and not the mainline subscription service.  That content remains PC-tethered and iPod-unfriendly, though other devices offer compatibility.

The updated Rhapsody follows a similar DRM-free move by Napster.  Both companies are aiming to drive action towards their subscription platforms, both of which have fallen far below initial expectations.

Armed with the sudden rush of MP3-based flexibility, the Rhapsody partners are now planning a massive, $50 million advertising blast, according to early morning reports.  That will utilize the considerable MTV Networks reach, though previous advertising efforts for MTV Urge resulted in woefully-low subscriber tallies, according to numerous sources close to the product.  Urge, a subscription-focused music store, was eventually transitioned into the Rhapsody joint venture.