Amazon Leaps Into Napster's Free-Music Turf

Hart said the downloads section contains thousands of free music files, comprising a mix of major-label artists and unsigned garage bands. Clearly, though, the major artists are the draw. At launch, the section offered exclusive free downloads from the Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and the Eagles, among others. Hundreds of other major label artists also are represented with free tracks provided to Amazon on a non-exclusive basis. 

Hart said each track assigned to the site by major labels is negotiated individually. That has resulted in a kind of smorgasbord approach, with some tracks being made available for permanent free download as MP3 files, and others being offered as Liquid Audio tracks that become unplayable after a set expiration date. 

Along with the launch of the downloads section, Hart said that Amazon has revamped its Advantage program, a CD promotion and distribution system for unsigned musicians. Similar to the program available on the MP3.com site, Advantage supplies up-and-coming groups a place to hawk their CDs free of charge on Amazon, while allowing users to download and sample some of the tracks. 

As of today, Advantage allows artists to directly upload sample tracks to Amazon for free download, and puts in place a virtual tip jar where fans can contribute cash directly to the acts through credit-card donations, Hart said. 

Artists with presence on Advantage are not asked to sign exclusive contracts with Amazon, and may duplicate their presence on competitors' services like MP3.com, Hart said. "We think it ...

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