The other week I sat down with Leo Dirac of Rhapsody Webservices and he told me a bit about their upcoming plans. They want to be the music listening platform of choice for site-owners. Yesterday, they made a significant step towards this vision when Rhapsody (Real’s subscription service) enabled anonymous users to listen to whole albums on demand for free with links from third-party sites.
The RESTful links used to enable this are very easy to read and write. The format, http://play.rhapsody.com/artistname/albumname (example: http://play.rhapsody.com/massiveattack/mezzanine) is simple to construct on the fly (paving the way for a multitude of Greasemonkey scripts and on-demand bookmarklets). When a user clicks on the link an ActiveX control or Firefox plugin is called and whole songs from that artist or album (new with this release) will start playing – for free. Anonymous users get 25 full song plays a month, any number beyond that degrades to the industry-standard 30sec clips; existing Rhapsody users get unlimited plays. Besides the download, the other unfortunate aspect of this implementation is that you are redirected away from the originating site to the associated album page on Real.
There are no direct monetization plans behind this right now (read: no ads). It is purely a developer/site-owner outreach play right now. They feel they have both a technological and licensing advantage (they believe themselves to be the only ones with the license to play full songs on demand for free). If they become the music platform for the web then they will inevitably increase their subscription rate.
As you can see on ProgrammableWeb there aren’t any other APIs like this. Most of the available music APIs involve search or interfacing with that service’s player. I could see this being an upside for Real (as long as the economics hold). I doubt Apple will build a competing feature set; they have their closed, profitable eco-system and no subscription service. It’s Yahoo that I see in their rearview mirror; if they have the licensing then I’ll bet that they have the will to build a competing service.
Real has had trust issues with their software in the past. Users must be able to install and uninstall their software at will. Will they be able to get users to install the plug-in and site-owners to use their service? Probably, but only if Real is able to overcome this issue. Once their plugins are widely installed on the majority of browsers then it will be come a no-brainer for site-owners and bloggers to use their service. Especially once they add direct, RESTful song links then anyone can easily become an MP3 blogger.