Just when new ideas in digital downloads seemed to be dead, Sony Music Entertainment debuted a new consumer-oriented classical recorded music store called Ariama on Tuesday. Created to better serve classical consumers, the browser-based store has search and discovery features specific to classical music as well as editorial content from Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine.

The store, located at ariama.com, is launching with music from all four majors and most independents, says Thomas Hesse, president of global digital business, US Sales and Corporate Strategy for Sony Music Entertainment. Ariama offers both CDs and digital downloads. All four majors and most indies are currently available in CD format. Ariama is currently missing downloads from Universal Music Group and some indies, Hesse says, but is working to fill those gaps.

Classical may be a niche market, but Sony sees opportunity. "We feel the classical market is underserved," Hesse explains. One example of classical fans' special needs is the genre's different metadata. A typical store has standard categories like artist, song and album. Customers search by those fields, and that’s how the music is categorized and organized. In classical, however, metadata fields such as composer, conductor, performer, orchestra and period are important. So, Ariama takes a different tact in organizing the music and leading the customer by the hand.

"It's really helpful to have some more information and reviews to help you evaluate with of the Beethoven's Ninth Symphony you should buy," Hesse says. "There are so many recordings of this one particular work that having editorial content that helps you compare the recordings can lead you to a much more informed and, hopefully, satisfying choice."

In addition, Sony has found that classical consumers prefer higher fidelity and want to purchase both CDs and downloads, Hesse says. Ariama's downloads are high-quality 320 kbps MP3 files. When available, lossless downloads (either Apple or WMA formats) cost a few dollars more. Some titles are available in SA-CD format as well.

The site is well organized and easy to navigate. On the main page are links organized under categories such as recommendations, composers, conductors, performers and orchestras. The store offers numerous recommendations by the staff as well as BBC Music and Gramophone. Recommended titles can be viewed in two tabs: albums (titles that can be purchased) and works (lists of all recordings of the recommended works). Browsing can become a bit tedious, however, if you try to scroll through the alphabetized lists of conductors, composers, performers and orchestras. There are 443 conductors listed under "D" alone.

Composer overviews have fairly detailed biographies with links to works (similar to the way eMusic offers editorial with links to artists and titles). Those works have a description as well as links to recordings. For example, Mozart's "Mass No. 17 for soloists, chorus & orchestra in C minor" lists 10 different recordings. Conductors' pages also have biographies and links to their recordings. Finally, on each recording's page there are sections for both editorial and customer reviews.

Ariama is launching first in the United States only. Hesse says that Sony would like to eventually roll out Ariama stores to European markets as well.