A new service called MusicGiants has obtained a license from the 4 major labels to sell lossless DRMed WMA files.
The site looks pretty slick, and they're definitely making a big deal of the lossless files (as I think they should) since that's their major differentiator, and probably (along with DRM) iTunes' weakest points.
While they may be licensed by the 4 major labels, they definitely don't have the same major label catalog that appears on other music sites. Britney Spears, for example, is represented with just one album. There's no AC/DC, no Metallica, only 2 Black Sabbath albums and Guns N' Roses is listed as an artist, but they have no albums, just to take a random sampling.
What *is* represented is tons of bargain-bin material, like Hall & Oates, Heart, Flock of Seagulls and Henry Mancini. That doesn't mean the music is bad (hey, they've got Brian Eno, Zakir Hussain, and 3 Bjork albums from the back catalog) but it's not a competitive catalog with other online services. I'm assuming that's due to some holding-back by the major labels, just like when iTunes started out and the majors withheld one song per album from iTunes.
They've got some growing pains, as their site went splat and was unavailable for a good amount o today, their home page giving this error:
Somewhat oddly, they have a page discussing their music-appliance/media-server
that interoperates with their web site to provide a more seamless solution, and they provide an email address for more info on this device (presumably, they're looking for resellers or perhaps in beta testing).
I'm guessing there's some significant venture capital behind this, and the majors are hoping that the lossless aspect may create a competitor to iTunes, who has more power over them than they're comfortable with. An media player device, 4 major labels agreeing, and a proprietary player -- these are all expensive propositions.
The cost kind of surprised me, at $15.29 per album download, that's pretty steep:
A Love of High Fidelity Music. Downloads cost as little as $1.29 per track or $15.29 per album and deliver supreme sound quality.
Note the "as little" wording - this probably means per-tracking pricing can be higher.
A Credit Card to pay the $50 annual fee. 100% of your first year's fee will be applied to music
purchases.* Each year thereafter, the fee is waived when you spend $50.*
The annual $50 fee + required download before you can even try it out is going to make it very hard for them to get critical mass, and get the enterprise seriously rolling.
This is interesting: only portable devices which support lossless WMA are supported -- they will not and cannot re-encode to a normal compressed lossy WMA file to support the wider world of portable WMA playing devices:
Presently, Products may be transferred only to portable digital devices supporting the Windows Media Audio Lossless format (please check to confirm "Lossless" support, even if the devices says its support WMA).
I do take exception that they claim to be the only high fidelity music download service:
since we've been doing that at Magnatune for almost 3 years, but that's quibbling.
I'll be interested to see what happens with this service, and perhaps we'll see more services selling lossless high quality audio files...