Ever since iTunes paved the way, everyone wants to get into the downloadable music business. New stores are opening up all the time, and existing online stores, such as Wal-Mart.com, are adding downloadable music to their offerings. Two basic models have emerged, with some overlap.
The most common model is that of online stores where you can purchase downloadable music by the song or album. The other model is that of music subscription services, which let you download a certain number of tracks for a fixed monthly fee. Some subscription services, such as Rhapsody (http://www.listen.com), let you listen to an unlimited number of high-quality songs in streaming format. You can’t download songs to your computer or transfer them to a portable player, but you can purchase songs and burn them directly to an audio CD. Most of the subscription services offer a free trial period, so there is little risk in trying them.
Following are descriptions of the major players in the current crop of online music stores. Think of these as a representative sampling. There are many more sites than we have room to cover, especially in the categories of music from independent artists and less-mainstream genres (electronic, folk, and world music, to name just a few). Because the industry is young and still evolving, new online music sites (and business models) will continue to pop up all the time, while many existing sites will close or be acquired by others.