Retailer Launches Free Online Radio Station

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - All Tina, all the time. At Barnesandnoble.com Inc.'s new online radio station, which kicked off Feb. 1, Tina Turner's newest hits are among the 25,000 songs visitors can listen to at no charge.

The free radio station, said analysts, is Barnesandnoble.com's latest strategy to move ahead of the pack in the fierce battle among Internet music and bookstores.

"It only makes sense," said Rebecca Nidositko, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "It's just another way to market a product they're selling."

The radio station, bnRadio.com, lets listeners tune into full-length music from a catalog of 25,000 songs. Like traditional stations, listeners are limited to the songs that are currently playing, but they can select the type of music they want to hear. The station offers 16 music categories including alternative, blues, country and pop. Visitors can then purchase music directly from the site.

"It's really just providing a more entertaining shopping experience," said Barnesandnoble.com spokeswoman Lisa Lanspery. "This is going to enhance our music store and continue the momentum."

Barnesandnoble.com's major competitors, Amazon.com Inc. and Borders Group Inc.'s Borders.com, let visitors sample songs for only 30 seconds. Visitors at bnRadio.com can not only listen to full-length songs, but they can also sample five-minute portions of books on tape, which normally run six to 11 hours.

Customers can access Real Player 7 and Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape 4.7 for Macintosh computers or PCs.

It's only a matter of time before competitors catch on to the idea and offer free full-length music selections at their sites, said Nidositko.

The audiences seem to be out there. More than 850,000 Internet listeners spent 1.4 million hours last November tuned to online radio stations, according to statistics from The Arbitron Co., a media research company.

Jeremy Schwartz, a new-media analyst at Forrester, praised Barnesandnoble.com's idea, but he said it could hinder sales if people can dial in anytime and listen to music online.

Lanspery disputed that argument, pointing out that bnRadio.com is similar to traditional radio stations. The idea, she said, is to promote excitement about artists so people buy their music.

The biggest expense for Barnesandnoble.com in launching the station was the price of the tuner, explained Lanspery, who said the company won't disclose terms of the deal. But the company will easily recoup the expense by selling more music at the site, she said.

The station is licensed by Broadcast Music Inc., the American Society of Composers, Authors and Performers, the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers and performing rights companies, according to Charles Moore, a spokesman at Cambridge, Mass.-based Radio Active Media Partners, which developed the bnRadio service. Copyrights for the station were obtained by the Recording Industries Association.

While the online book sales competition is far from limited to the giants, smaller bookstores probably won't feel much of a pinch from bnRadio because it will likely attract music customers rather than book shoppers, said Dana Brigham, co-owner of Brookline Booksmith, an independent bookstore in Brookline, Mass., two blocks from a Barnes & Noble Inc. store.

"It's just another straw on the poor camel's back," said Brigham. "But this one doesn't have me truly exercised."

Many independent bookstores have launched Web sites in recent years to stay afloat. They have even banned together to create BookSense, a nationwide network of 1,100 bookstores offering merchandise on the Internet. But, said Brigham, their primary focus remains with brick-and-mortar stores.

The bigger booksellers, she said, can duke it out among themselves, with features such as online radio and TV stations.

"There's almost a crazy desperation," she said. "The number of things being added everyday is outrageous."

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