Qtrax Shows How to Make Free Music Downloads Unappealing

Far be it from me to suggest that companies should just give up competing with the iTunes Store. Competition, when done right, means more and better choices for the consumer. But honestly: if you're going to launch a product into a dominated market, you've got to have "some sort of edge, right? I mean, you're not going to go open a coffee shop next to Starbucks where you sell only coffee made with Folgers crystals served in those little pointy cups they give you at water coolers and which is only open between the hours of three and five on alternate Thursdays.

Ah, but then you wouldn't be Qtrax, a company whose odd, awkward history is surpassed in bizarreness only by Joaquin Phoenix's recent "interview" with David Letterman. The company announced in January 2008 that it had struck deals to provide free downloads from all the major record labels, a move that prompted the labels to reply: "I'm sorry, who are you again?"

Those deals apparently finally went through, as the AP reports that Qtrax is finally on the verge of rolling out its service--for real, this time! Of course, calling it a "service" is probably generous. The idea behind Qtrax is that the company will let you download free music via the Gnutella peer-to-peer network (you know, as opposed to all that other free music you find on P2P networks). Meanwhile, Qtrax will be ranking in the money from all the ads that you have to view on the service's Web site.

Oh, and did we mention that all those songs are in Windows Media format? And encoded with DRM? So, yeah, don't hold your breath on Mac compatibility or iPod integration. Come on: you have to throw users some sort of bone, right? Yes, it doesn't cost you anything except your time, and there are some idiots that'll take a poke in the eye with a sharp stick if it's free, but probably not enough to keep your poke-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick business afloat.

Has the recording industry just forgotten that it's already got plenty of customers who are happy to pay for music? I'm not sure what demographic is being targeted here, unless it's the coveted "just woke up from 20 years in a coma and ohmigod you can get music on a computer?" segment.

[via Ars Technica]

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