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Sounding beautiful to music lovers.

With the death of Napster came the birth of paid subscription music, where music devotees could pony up a fee to access music and get actual customer support and clean downloads. Leading the charge in the subscription effort is Los Angeles-based Pressplay, which features songs from all five major record companies and throws in a slew of satellite radio channels to boot. CEO Michael Bebel chats about the new music scene, a killer catalog, and the love of music.

How did Pressplay get started?

A couple years ago, we started talking to Sony about doing something together. I was with Universal at the time, and through some industry forums, I found that we were very likeminded with Sony, so we began a dialogue. We decided to develop something that would meet the needs of the consumers online as well as present them with a legitimate alternative to what was a significant issue at the time, online music sharing. We put the venture together and launched the service in December 2001 as a joint venture between Universal and Sony.

What has the reaction of the recording industry been to the service?

Very good. It’s an initiative and an undertaking that’s significant. It touches the fundamentals of our industry, since the issue of online music sharing affects all parts of the recording business. I’ve been very encouraged by the progress in the industry to move toward this new business model of delivering music online. You have to understand, the music business has been designed around publishing in very specific formats like albums and CDs, so it takes time and effort for them to change and adopt this new model.

How do you feel now that Pressplay has passed its first birthday?

At this point, I’m feeling great about where we sit. We haven’t marketed our product very much, we’ve just relied on our PR efforts to get our name out there and make business partners aware of us, and we certainly haven’t gone about direct consumer marketing. We’ve held off the marketing because we were spending the first year getting our product right and building our content catalog. It’s been very deliberate and focused, and now we’re looking forward to showing it off.

After music lovers got used to Napster, do you think they’ll now move to a paid subscription model?

All indications are that consumers are moving in that direction. Reed Research recently released some statistics that showed two things are happening simultaneously: Less free content is being taken off the Internet and more paid content is being taken. That tends to support the notion that people have begun to understand that these file-sharing networks are illegal and also insecure. They’re prone to deliver spyware or potent viruses, and beyond that, they’re becoming more difficult to use as they grow, since they don’t scale well. That drives people to services like ours.

What do you like best about Pressplay?

I love music. I love the challenge that what we’re doing here presents. It’s a quest to find a path through a significant amount of chaos and upheaval in an industry that’s looking forward to a new relationship with the consumer. Also, it’s a chance to reach the consumer through a whole new format and business model, and what could be more fun than that?

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