Twelve months ago, free ad-supported music download service Qtrax launched in a blaze of controversy, most notably claiming it had support from all four major record labels, which was news to them. Qtrax is going after the holy grail of music, free and legal downloads, and so it wasn’t surprising that the company faced a licensing uphill battle. A year later and all the “t”s have been crossed and the “i”s dotted: EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and Universal Music are on board, reports AP, and a relaunch is planned for next month. However, a few questions remain.
At the original launch, Qtrax claimed that the service would support the iPod, which sounded like pie in the sky since Apple doesn’t license its copy-protection technology to third-parties, and the Qtrax proposition in heavily reliant on DRM. Users need to be connected to the Internet to authorize the tracks they play, as well as ‘phone home’ other data such as play count in order for the labels (and artists) to be compensated fairly from the pool of available ad revenue. The AP article makes mention of iPod support still being on the cards. Baloney.
Beyond iPods, Qtrax says that a large number of smartphones and mp3 players are supported — users can transfer downloaded tracks to said devices but they’ll need to re-sync them once a month in order to see advertisements and send back that crucial listening data. However, no where on the site can I find which mobile devices are compatible, aside from mentions of Windows Media DRM.
There’s also the question of whether Qtrax’s necessary but kludgy approach really has reached the holy grail as it introduces a level of inconvenience that may turn users away. Instead, ad-supported streaming services, with no download required, might have a better future. Especially as Internet access – even on the go – becomes increasingly ubiquitous.
And then there’s that advertising pot. Will it be bigger enough to satisfy the majors in the long term? Qtrax doesn’t feature audio ads but banners only, which I suspect won’t command a very high rate.