Qtrax: Can ad-supported p2p work?

by Mathew on January 27, 2008 · 24 comments

Update:

Matt posted a comment here with a link to Silicon Alley Insider, which notes that a Warner Music rep says the label has not licensed its music to Qtrax, and Universal hasn’t signed a deal either but is reportedly talking to the company. Sounds like even more reasons to be skeptical.

Original post:

Qtrax finally launched on the weekend at the Midem music conference in Cannes — although the service is currently down, with a page telling users it is unavailable “due to overwhelming demand” and to return in 24 hours. The service, which used to be a Kazaa-style p2p app, has spent the past four or five years now trying to become what it claims is the first legal peer-to-peer music service.

There are more than a few reasons to be skeptical about its chances. One is that Qtrax has already missed several launch dates, most recently in October. And while Wired magazine says that the company has more than 25 million tracks, other reports say that includes all the songs available on Limewire and other p2p networks, and it’s not clear how many of those will actually be available to Qtrax users.

The fact that it has taken this long for the service to even launch is a sign of how hard it is to build a business that suits the demands of the record industry and the needs of users. It’s also not clear whether the company’s business model – music paid for by advertising – will even work or not. Several other companies, including SpiralFrog.com, are looking to do the same thing, but have yet to show much success (several SpiralFrog executives left last year). Note: See the comment from Brian below for a link to some numbers about SpiralFrog.

While the songs are free, you have to use the Qtrax music player software — a specialized version of the Songbird music browser, which is itself based on Firefox — in order to play them, so that the browser can show you the ads that are supposed to pay for everything. In other words, no iTunes. And while the company says it is working on iPod support, at the moment it appears that Qtrax files won’t play on iPods.

It’s bad enough that the files include digital-rights controls that prevent them from being burned to CD. If they won’t play on the world’s most popular music device, that would be a killer. Meanwhile, Amazon says it is rolling out its giant music service internationally — and it is completely DRM free. Will users prefer DRM-free music that costs money, or free music that comes with all kinds of restrictions?

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