Illegal music downloading is on the decrease as a number of legal websites that offer a safe, affordable and comprehensive music-downloading alternative enter the marketplace. A handful of major vendors offer high-quality digital catalogs with millions of available tracks, and a growing number of smaller labels, artists and independent companies are selling MP3s from their websites. There are also lots of freebies where up-and-comers offer "taster" tracks to raise their profile and expose their music to a wider audience. Some artists also offer bonus tracks when you download their albums.
Apple iTunes is the largest and most successful legal download service available. The jukebox software package for organizing and playing music, suggesting music, ripping CDs and transferring music to different portable devices is free but also houses Apple's pay-per-download music store. Its vast catalog is available to download for $.69, $.99 or $1.29 a pop and is no longer protected under Digital Rights Management (DRM) laws, which means songs are able to be transferred to any portable music-playing device. iTunes also offers at least one free track download per week. It is placed in the store every Tuesday and available to download until the following Tuesday.
Napster is best known for revolutionizing the music industry as the first major illegal music-download site. Since its closure in 1999, it had been taken over by numerous private media companies before finally being acquired by Best Buy, which transformed the website into a legitimate streaming and download service. Napster provides three different monthly membership options from $4.17, all offering unlimited streaming and a number of songs to download from its 12-million-plus catalog. Members may also purchase DRM-free MP3 downloads at a discount. Napster offers an MP3 store as well, a pay-per-track store that does not require a monthly subscription fee.
7 Digital is another major player in the digital-downloading scene, having made deals with major labels (Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner) in order to sell a 11-million-plus catalog of the highest-quality MP3s from primarily mainstream artists. The tracks are suitable for any portable music device and, like iTunes, you pay per song or album download (from $.82 a song or $5 an album). There are also loads of sale titles available and a wide range of information about the music, from news and reviews to various lists highlighting the most popular content.
The globally available subscription service from eMusic starts at $11.99 per month for up to 24 tracks from its 10-million-song catalog. The tracks are primarily from more independent labels and artists, but its selection is still very comprehensive and much more economical than iTunes. The files are high-quality, DRM-free MP3s that can be played back on any system or device.