updated 03:55 pm EDT, Wed July 30, 2008
Universal today took an unusual route in announcing LostTunes, its own company-run store. Rather than sell a bulk catalog, the service focuses only on rare and at times unreleased albums from the music label's collection. Albums are hand-picked by Universal and cover several different eras ranging from classic jazz on the Verve label to Joni Mitchell and electronic music. The catalog will start small with just 134 albums but will add 500 albums within the next half-year; the goal is to offer a new way to buy into a back catalog, Universal says.
To that end, many artists and albums have biographies and opinions on their respective pages.
All songs are also encoded as 320Kbps MP3s that are both described as "double the quality of iTunes" (128Kbps AAC) and play properly on any device, including iPods and Macs. The store is backed by UK music store 7 Digital and will at first be available only to British users at prices of 99p per track and £8 for a typical album, though Universal promises versions for other countries in "coming months."
Universal has been experimenting with several alternative business models in part to avoid giving Apple too much control over music. In addition to withholding DRM-free music from iTunes, the label is credited for originating Nokia's Comes With Music service, which adds to the initial cost of certain cellphones in exchange for unlimited yet permanent copy protected downloads from multiple major labels for the space of a year. [via Distorted-Loop]