The music industry's bid to sell full-song downloads from ringtones gained an ally today with the unveiling of Thumbplay's new full-song mobile music service.

Hoping to do for full-song music downloads what it did for ringtones, Thumbplay's beta-store lets subscribers of all mobile operators buy and download music to more than 2,000 compatible phones. At launch, it has licensing deals with Universal Music Group and EMI Music Group, as well as independent aggregators The Orchard and INgrooves, totaling about 1.5 million tracks. Other independent labels, as well as majors Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, continue to be courted.

Tracks will be DRM-free, and will cost 99-cents through an eMusic-like subscription model. Thumbplay will charge $9.99 a month for access to the full-song service, for which customers will get 10 credits redeemable for one song each. New subscribers will get 10 free credits as a bonus for signing up.

Off-deck full-song downloads have the potential to inject new life into the sluggish mobile music sales channel. While ringtone sales through carrier partners are slowing down, off-deck ringtone sales are growing. Research group Informa Telecom Telecoms & Media predicts off-deck content sales in North America will grow to $2.4 billion from $381 million in 2005. By 2010, off-deck content sales are expected to outpace carrier-originated sales--$5 billion to $2.1 billion.

Even more important for the music industry is the greater depth of music purchased via off-deck providers. The most popular 20 ringtones available via a typical operator represents about 90% of all on-deck ringtone revenue, while Thumbplay claims its 20 best-selling ringtones only make up 17% of its total-meaning off-deck sales have a better "long tail" opportunity. It remains to be see if full-track sales will follow that same trend, but Thumbplay CEO Are Traasdahl earlier this year told Billboard it's a "natural extension."

Thumbplay has already made a name for itself in the ringtone sales business as the largest provider of off-deck ringtone sales in the U.S.-for which it has licensing deals with all major labels and a host of independents. The company markets its service both directly to consumers through TV, Internet and magazine ads, as well as through a unique integration with such web properties as AOL, Clear Channel Radio, iLike, MSN Mobile and MTV.

For instance, any song streamed on AOL Music or via Clear Channel Radio online stations features a link to buy the ringtone. With the new music service, those sites can carry links to download the full song to users mobile phones as well.

What's also different about Thumplay is that it can offer these full songs to users of virtually any mobile phone on any U.S. mobile operator. The company has billing relationships with all the major wireless operators so that users can simply add the Thumplay charges to their existing monthly statement.

Thumplay also has it's own wireless storefront, which receives more than five million unique visitors a 12 million page views a month, according to internal figures, where it also sells monthly subscription plans and other content.

Thumbplay is not the first off-deck mobile service provider to offer full-song downloads. Dada Entertainment, a joint venture partially owned by Sony Music Entertainment, last month introduced DRM-free full song downloads as well, limited to Sony and UMG catalogs. In Europe the practice is commonplace.

Related stories:
- Clear Channel To Add Thumplay Store to Web Sites
- Thumbplay Secures $18M in Financing
- Thumbplay Unveils 'Open' Service