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Virgin flashes Red Pass for digital music

Virgin Group Ltd. on Monday is set to launch Virgin Digital Red Pass, the latest choice in the increasingly competitive field of comprehensive subscription music services.
/ Source: Reuters

Virgin Group Ltd. on Monday is set to launch Virgin Digital Red Pass, the latest choice in the increasingly competitive field of comprehensive subscription music services. In addition to its library and package of editorial and other features, Red Pass undercuts other services by offering unlimited access for $7.99 a month without a contract.

Users can choose from more than 2 million tracks representing at least 15,000 record labels, said Zack Zalon, president of Virgin Digital. Red Pass also provides 60 professionally programmed Internet radio stations, CD ripping and burning provisions and a host of other new features.

“We created this service because we wanted people to listen to and discover more music than they ever have before,” he said. “Granted, the digital music space is becoming more populated, but we believe our 35-year history in music enables us to offer consumers a certain level of musical expertise that other services simply can’t provide.”

All downloaded tracks can be transferred to portable music players that are certified “Plays for Sure,” which includes many devices that can play songs in Microsoft’s WMA format. Apple Computer’s iPod devices are not compatible with any subscription service.

“There’s no question in anyone’s mind that digital is where music is going, and subscription music is finally starting to pique the interest of consumers,” Zalon said. “Nobody has done a good job of communicating what subscription is all about. But now it’s getting to the point where music fans are a receptive audience.”

The music licenses and content distribution platform are provided by MusicNet, and the playback engine, user interface, search, browse, and media-management functions are part of the Virgin Digital platform.

Zalon said Virgin Digital’s relationship with Virgin Megastores made it possible to solicit input from retail staff and customers when designing Red Pass while also providing a natural avenue for marketing it.

“The biggest problem with subscription music is consumers are not being communicated to in the right way,” Zalon said. “We have the right price, new features that are compelling and the unique ability to talk to consumers like a music company, not a technology company.”

One of Red Pass’ unusual features is that users can let their subscription lapse, yet all of their downloaded music and options will be restored when the account is reactivated. Additionally, all purchased tracks will be replaced free should a user’s computer crash or be lost or stolen within a year.

Among its other features are a button that automatically fills any compatible portable player, laptop computer or mobile phone with a personalized selection of music; user rankings, reviews and commentary; more than 60,000 custom and frequently refreshed playlists; the ability to get expert replies to questions about music or technology; and a Fan Ring network of artist-related communities that receive targeted information.