À la carte store to come with new Real software

RealNetworks will launch an a la carte download store and a new version of its RealPlayer media management software this morning at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company will also announce that it has taken over operation of RollingStone.com from Vivendi Universal's VUNet USA Internet unit as part of a seven-year global licensing deal with Rolling Stone magazine parent Wenner Media. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

At launch, the RealPlayer Music Store-which will be embedded in the latest version of Real's software, RealPlayer 10-will feature a catalog of more than 300,000 tracks from the major labels and independents. Tracks cost 99 cents each; most albums sell for $9.99. Users can burn up to five copies of the same playlist and transfer purchased tracks to select portable devices.

As part of the launch, Real will offer the first download to new users for 10 cents. The promotion runs for the next 10 days.

To help drive awareness for the store, Real has inked a deal with beer maker Heineken. Over the summer, 7 million specially marked Heineken packages will contain coupons redeemable for two free Real downloads.

The RealPlayer Music Store will also be promoted through Rolling Stone as part of the deal with Wenner Media. Visitors to RollingStone.com will be offered the opportunity to purchase music from the store. In addition, Real has exclusive online rights to Rolling Stone's archive of music news and photos-some of which will integrated into the RealPlayer and Real's Rhapsody subscription service.

Tracks purchased through the RealPlayer Music Store are being encoded in the AAC format, the same standard used by Apple's iTunes Music Store. However, digital rights management compatibility issues bar the transfer of tracks purchased through Real to Apple's popular iPod portable digital players. But because of its AAC support, the latest version of Real's software does allow users to manage their iPod and iTunes-purchased tracks through the RealPlayer. Users can also rip their own CDs into an unprotected version of the AAC format compatible with the iPod.

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