Yahoo! today (May 10) is soft launching its long-anticipated new digital music service/music management solution, Yahoo! Music Unlimited.

Yahoo! today (May 10) is soft launching its long-anticipated new digital music service/music management solution, Yahoo! Music Unlimited.

The offering boasts a catalog of more than 1 million tracks supplied by MusicNet, and features both a la carte downloads for 99 cents and a subscription package with portability for an introductory price of $6.99 per month. Subscribers can also buy permanent ownership tracks for 79 cents a song.

The subscription tier also allows for the rapid building of playlists based on artist preferences, and provides access to the premium version of Yahoo’s LaunchCast radio service.

The subscription service does not create a separate pricing tier for portability, putting Yahoo! Music Unlimited’s cost well below both PC-listening-only subscription services and new portable subscription offerings from rivals Napster and Real Networks and FYE. For example, a regular Napster subscription costs $9.95 while Napster To Go costs $14.95.

“We think it's tough to charge people extra for portability since it is not as seamless as everyone would like it to be,” explains Dave Goldberg, VP/GM for Yahoo! Music. However, Goldberg says that long-term pricing for the service—which is still in “beta” testing mode—is yet to be worked out.

In another key component of the offering, Yahoo Messenger will be integrated into the application allowing subscribers to pass tracks back and forth via instant messenger. Users of the service can also forward 30-second clips over IM to friends who do not subscribe.

Also as part of the community component of the service, Yahoo! Music Unlimited will generate personalized homepages for all of its users and provide links to profiles of other users who share similar tastes.

The company sees tools like its instant messaging client playing a key role in driving awareness for the service and building a community around it.

“Personalization is great but a lot of the way most people find out about music is through their friends,” says Goldberg. “We think this allows for natural ‘sharing’ of music. For both artists and consumers this makes ‘sharing’ work for everybody.”

In addition to acting as a music service, the Yahoo! Music Unlimited client also doubles as a jukebox for ripping and burning CDs and managing existing collections of mp3 music and Microsoft WMA files.

Yahoo! Music Unlimited was built internally by Yahoo; it runs separately of MusicMatch, the jukebox software developer Yahoo acquired last year. Yahoo! Music will continue to offer Musicmatch's Jukebox 10 music management and On Demand subscription services for now. Effective today, Musicmatch On Demand pricing will be lowered to $6.99 monthly for subscribers. However, the company says it intends to eventually combine Musicmatch's offerings with Yahoo! Music Unlimited.

At launch the service will feature exclusive tracks from John Scofield, Liz Wright, Doves, Diana Anaid, Trick Daddy, Anna Nalick, Son Volt and The Go-Betweens.

Yahoo is not planning to aggressively market the service until it formally bows later this year.