Qtrax is back…kind of. If you don’t remember Qtrax, you aren’t alone. It was one of several now-defunct peer-to-peer systems from the heady days of the Napster era. Based on Gnutella, the original Qtrax client disappeared without leaving much of a brand name behind. That isn’t being seen as an impediment by LTDnetwork, which is planning to relaunch the brand later this year as a legal P2P service.
LTDnetwork has spent the last several years developing a proprietary file format with built-in digital rights management (DRM). According to the Qtrax site, the .mpq format will allow files to be played on the host computer, supported by revenue generated through advertising integrated into the Qtrax client/player. Additionally, the user will be encouraged to purchase the songs he’s playing, either through an agreement with another online retailer, or through a subscription model which will provide Windows Media files.
Qtrax has a little bit of momentum behind it, with a contract recently being made to distribute the EMI catalog through its service. It appears that some measure of agreement has also been reached with ASCAP and BMI, as the logos of those organizations are featured on the front page as well.
Currently, the site consists of little more than press releases and promotion for certain EMI titles such as Nora Jones’ four-year-old album "Come Away With Me," with links to purchase associated ringtones or downloads from Buy.com. A button to download the player promises only that it is "Coming Soon!" There is also no word on what operating systems the player will run on, although the screen shots are taken from a Windows client.
Until the online music and media world starts to realize a stable business plan for the long-term, we’ll probably see more startups like Qtrax hoping to make a dent in the marketshare enjoyed by the iTMS. Napster itself was the biggest name to attempt the jump from illicit to legitimate, but even the name recognition Napster brought to the party hasn’t really been enough to make a dent in the iTMS crown.
As described, Qtrax doesn’t seem to have much going for it beyond its EMI agreement. For one thing, the last thing the world needs is yet another proprietary media format (YAPMF). Until the iPod takes a major nose-dive in marketshare, incompatibility with that device is going to be a serious impediment to the success of any online music service. Additionally, while the model of free plays may be enticing to some, that lure may be offset by regular nags to purchase the music. While it’s certainly encouraging to see continued activity in the search for viable competition to the iTMS, Qtrax may want to rethink its approach if it hopes to become a serious contender.