eBay plans to put song downloads to the test

July 22, 2004|By Frank Barnako | Frank Barnako,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Online auction powerhouse eBay is expected soon to begin helping visitors buy and sell song downloads.

The company had resisted the business because of uncertainties over copyright and digital distribution, but rapid growth in legitimate online music sales has persuaded it to begin a six-month test.

"We know there are certain things where downloading is the preferred way," eBay spokesman Hani Durzy told the San Jose Mercury News, "and we needed to explore if this was a viable transaction."

Evidence of the test appeared last Thursday, in the form of a "Digital Downloads" hyperlink at the bottom of the eBay site's music category page. There was one entry, "Test Auction - Please do not bid." Shortly after 6 a.m., a seller in Germany was also offering an MP3 file of a "nice relaxing" track for 89 cents. The category was empty yesterday afternoon.

It is expected that eBay's plans will include a select number of sellers who have proof that they have rights to content. There also have been meetings with record company executives to discuss the new service, the Mercury News reported. Buyers would be directed to the sellers' Web sites to make purchases, either at auction or fixed price.

"They're trying to see how far they can extend the brand," said analyst Michael McGuire of Gartner Inc.

"Are they a candidate? You bet," he said.

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