File Shearing

After whacking Napster, the labels needed their own digital download alternatives, and fast. It shows.

In contrast, Pressplay's downloads are cumulative, meaning that new downloads are added to your quota each month. "You don't go to the store, buy the new Bruce Springsteen album, and go home and throw out the old one to make room," notes Seth Oster, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs for Pressplay. "That's not the way people collect." Then again, most collections don't require monthly rental fees just to prevent them from vaporizing, either.

Compare this to simply buying a disc of some sort and hanging on to it. Maybe you carted a 45 of "Antmusic" through two dorms and three apartments; faced with repaying for the tune every single month, it might suddenly feel dispensable.

Pressplay gives consumers a weensy bit to hang on to with its limited burning. No more than two tracks can come from the same artist, though, which rules out burning, you know, a whole album. ("You could over time," points out Oster -- though obtaining an album two tracks at a time over six months would really strain consumer habits.)

And, in case CDs are a little too old-school for you anyway: Neither service currently lets you transfer your music to a portable digital device, such as the Rio.

So there's still a lot to iron out. "We needed to start somewhere," explains Lisa Amore, a senior PR manager at RealNetworks, of their current file limit. "We decided 100 was a good round number to see what the usage rate is and how many downloads people are doing."

"[The services] know what people want," disagrees Jim Griffin, CEO of Cherry Lane Digital and a digital music analyst. "They want whatever they want, whenever they want it. What [the services are] trying to figure out is what they can give them from rights-holders."

And, as everyone involved is quick to point out, MusicNet and Pressplay have only been around for a little over a month. "They are 13-year-olds on a date," says Griffin. "They are fumbling with the buttons and the snaps. This doesn't mean it's not going to work; it just means that it's gonna work 10 years from now."

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