Qtrax: How not to launch a product

This one could go down as one of the most bungled launches in Web 2.0 history — and that’s saying a lot. Qtrax, the legal ad-supported p2p network that has been in the works for more than four years now, came out on Sunday with much fanfare at the Midem music industry conference in Cannes, and said that it had the backing of all four major record labels, and would launch with 25 million tracks available for download. And then the wheels started to come off.

First, Silicon Alley Insider quoted a spokesman for Warner Music as saying the label had no agreement with Qtrax; then a spokesman for Universal said that they didn’t either; then someone at EMI said that it had no such deal either. Finally, a spokesman for Sony BMG said it had not signed anything with Qtrax either. So from being “the first legal p2p network backed by all four labels,” Qtrax quickly became a p2p network without official backing from any of the major labels.

The company says that this is all just a misunderstanding, and that it is close to finalizing deals with all the majors — but that’s not what its press releases and comments implied on Sunday. They said the service would be launching on Monday with 25 million tracks and the support of all the labels. That led to glowing articles like this one in many publications about the launch of this incredible network.

According to a report in Wired magazine, Qtrax had agreements several years ago with the major labels to do trials of an ad-supported music service, but most of those deals have since expired, and the kind of network the company is currently talking about is different from that described in the original agreements.

In addition to the “misunderstandings” with the labels over whether they support the idea or not, Qtrax has apparently been unable to start even a limited version of the service as promised. The site was unavailable off and on Monday, and said that as a result of demand the launch would occur “in stages.” A download link on the launch page was disabled. If Qtrax can somehow survive this botched launch and actually become a useful alternative, it will be the equivalent of Lazarus rising from the dead and then getting his own prime-time TV show.

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