Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Rhapsody Starts Its New Life With Price Cut and an Investment From Universal Music

Rhapsody starts life as an independent company this month and the music subscription service is marking the occasion with a price cut: It is lowering the price of its all-you-can-eat offering from $15 to $10 a month.

The service, formerly a joint venture between RealNetworks (RNWK) and Viacom’s (VIA) MTV, has two new investors. Real and Viacom each own about 47.5 percent of the company, and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group now owns a minority stake–something less than five percent. An undisclosed investor owns something much smaller than that.

Rhapsody’s managers will tell you that their new corporate structure gives them a better shot at turning around the music service, which has lost money for years and has recently been losing subscribers as well–it’s now down to 675,000. They predict they’ll generate $130 million in revenue this year and turn profitable by the end of 2010.

But consumers won’t care about any of that. The core question about them: Is there any amount of money they’re willing to pay for a monthly music subscription that lets them listen to whatever they want wherever they are?

Rhapsody’s price cut brings it in line with the $10-per-month offering Thumbplay announced earlier this year. If you want to spend less, both Best Buy’s (BBY) Napster and MOG offer $5 monthly subscriptions, but neither supports mobile phones (yet), so they’re only good for people who do most of their listening within earshot of their PCs.

Meanwhile Spotify, the music industry’s great European hope, has yet to make it to the U.S. despite many months of promises and negotiations. And lots of folks insist/believe/hope that Apple (AAPL) will eventually offer some sort of subscription service, or at least some kind of portable option that involves the cloud.

In the meantime, the overwhelming majority of people who do pay for music online do it in $1 increments. Apple is still selling some two billion songs a year via iTunes.

[Image credit: flattop341]