EMusic, the second-largest online music seller based in the US after Apple's iTunes, planned to announce a deal with AT&T yesterday that will allow people to buy songs from independent labels through their cellphones, without the need to go through a personal computer.
Several services, including those run by Sprint and Verizon, let people buy songs directly over the air. But these focus on songs by mainstream performers like Prince, who has a deal with Verizon.
EMusic sells only music from independent labels, a category that these days includes the new album from former Beatle Paul McCartney as well as obscure punk bands. The arrangement with AT&T Mobile Music will make those songs available just as easily as the more conventional ones.
Nearly all of the 2.7 million tracks eMusic has the rights to sell will be available through the service, which will work on several handsets by Samsung and Nokia.
"We know that we have a lot of customers in the segment that eMusic is trying to reach," said Mark Collins, vice president of consumer data services for AT&T's wireless unit.
Record labels have long believed that selling songs in mobile phone-based music stores will encourage impulse purchases.
EMusic will encourage consumers to browse, reading about bands and hearing snippets of songs to discover music they might like.
Tracks will cost more than they do over the Internet -- US$7.49 for five songs, as opposed to US$9.99 for 30 at the online site -- because of the expense of sending them over a mobile network to a user's phone.
For that price, however, users can also get another copy of the song, which they can download from the Internet as an MP3.
EMusic, which is owned by Dimensional Associates, the private equity arm of JDS Capital, currently has a marketing deal with AT&T to encourage consumers to "sideload" their phones with MP3s from its existing Internet store -- meaning that they can plug their phones into their computers to transfer the music.
But this will be its first time selling music on a mobile network.
"We think there are customers that are ready for eMusic, but they haven't heard of it yet," said David Pakman, the company's president and chief executive.
"We've focused on making this easy to use," he said.
Few of the albums that eMusic carries are likely to sell as briskly as the kind of pop singles the mobile-phone services have concentrated on selling so far.
But its strategy has always been to sell comparatively fewer copies of the vast number of releases available on independent labels.
For some of those labels that are rarely seen in big-box retail stores, eMusic has become an important partner.
"EMusic isn't pushing Top 40 on you when you get to the front page," said Allison Robertson, guitarist for the Donnas, a rock band with its own label, Purple Feather. "You find stuff that you can't find on the iTunes Top 100."
This service could make some independent music even easier to find.
"For eight bucks a month, you can get exposed to music you can't hear elsewhere, so you might be more likely to experiment," said Mike McGuire, a vice president of research at Gartner Inc. "It could be an interesting way to discover music."
AT&T is also the service provider for Apple's iPhone, but eMusic's over-the-air service will not work on that device.
Although the iPhone is fully compatible with Apple's iTunes program, it does not allow users to purchase songs without signing on to a computer.