十年前，在线音乐服务Napster和席卷全球、毫无节制地非法音乐共享吓坏了音乐产业，Rhapsody趁势确立了其市场地位，成为首家重要的付费音乐服务。但现在，它却被Spotify夺去了风头。这家公司位于欧洲，拥有相似的商业模式。上周，在旧金山召开的Facebook公司 f 8开发者大会上，占据了讲台中央是Spotify，而不是Rhapsody。会上，马克•扎克伯格发表了万众瞩目的主题演讲，Spotify的首席执行官丹尼尔•艾克成为他邀请上台的第一位贵客。两人大肆吹嘘了新型社交媒体平台音乐的诸多特性，随后，扎克伯格播放了一个幻灯片，展示了其他在线音乐领域的其他合作伙伴，Rhapsody也位列其中。但它仅仅是一晃而过，很可能是后来临时才增补进去的对象。
Rhapsody受到的这种怠慢是在音乐产业持续变化的背景下出现的。今年早些时候，尼尔森唱片市场调查公司（Nielsen SoundScan）称，2010年，美国音乐销量总体下滑了2.4%。但是数字音乐销量反而上升，而且基于订阅的服务表现出稳定增长的态势。市场研究公司ABI预计，到2016年，全世界将有1.61亿人通过手机获取音乐，与今年的590万人相比增长明显。美国唱片工业协会（Record Industry Association of America）称，2010年在线音乐订阅销售收入达到了2.01亿美元。尽管Rhapsody在这个行业拥有十年的先发优势，但它却突然发现，自己得拼尽全力去追赶一家新晋公司大步流星的步伐。这到底是怎么回事？
Rhapsody之所以落得今天的结局，可能仅仅是因为当年它太过于超前了。在云服务这一概念，更别说这个说法还没开始流行很久以前，它就已经在倡导将音乐存储于云中了。这么做的后果，用位于南加州的音乐资讯网站Digital Music News创始人保罗•雷斯尼科夫的话说就是，大家往往听不进去，还觉得困惑挠头。此外，该公司还经历了好几轮错综复杂的转型。2004年，它先是被RealPlayer播放器制造商RealNetworks公司（RealNetworks）收购；三年后，又被剥离出去，成为传媒巨头维亚康姆（Viacom）的合资公司。去年4月，它又将自己重新命名为Rhapsody国际公司（Rhapsody International）。
Spotify显然是个可畏的强敌。它已从包括硅谷的凯鹏华盈风投公司（Kleiner Perkins）这样的知名投资机构募得了上百万美元。而且它已获得了消费产品生产商梦寐以求的人气和增长动力。当然，这种局面不会一成不变。更有可能的局面是，这两家公司继续鏖战，直至分出胜负。现在，既然Rhapsody的商业模式已经得到广泛认可， 它要做的就是找到办法，与采取了相同模式的强敌一决高下。
For all its work in pioneering paid music subscriptions, Rhapsody should be enjoying a moment in the digital limelight right now. Record companies and consumers alike have overwhelmingly accepted its business model. Instead, Rhapsody is the underdog.
Rhapsody established itself as the first important paid music service a decade ago, after Napster and a worldwide binge of illegal file sharing spooked the music industry. But now it is being outshined by Spotify, a European-based rival with a similar business model. It was Spotify, not Rhapsody, at center stage last week at Facebook's f8 developer's conference in San Francisco. Spotify CEO Daniel Eck was Mark Zuckerberg's first guest during the widely watched keynote. After the two touted a slew of new social music features, Zuckerberg flashed a slide featuring other online music partners, Rhapsody included. It appeared so briefly it could have been an afterthought.
The slight comes amid continued change for the music industry. Earlier this year, Nielsen (NLSN) SoundScan reported that overall U.S. music sales were down 2.4% in 2010. Digital sales were up, however, and subscription-based services appear poised for growth. Research firm ABI projects that by 2016 some 161 million subscribers will be accessing music from their mobile phones around the world, up from just 5.9 million this year. Online subscriptions revenues were about $201 million in 2010, according to the Record Industry Association of America. Despite a ten-year head start in that very business, Rhapsody suddenly finds itself trying desperately to catch up to the momentum of a glitzy newcomer. What happened?
Rhapsody may simply have been ahead of its time. It advocated storing music in the cloud long before the idea, let alone the term, was in vogue. The result, according to Paul Resnikoff, founder of the Southern California-based Digital Music News, was often clunky and confusing. The company also underwent multiple convoluted transformations. In 2004, it was acquired by RealNetworks (RNWKD) and spun off again three years later as a joint venture with Viacom (VIA). Last April, it rebranded itself as Rhapsody International.
The company is private and does not release its financial numbers, but it says it has some 800,000 subscribers paying $10 a month. Rival Spotify has 1.4 million U.S. users, about 170,000 of which pay either $4.99 or $9.99 a month, according to a source cited by Billboard.
Rhapsody hasn't taken Spotify's ascendency lying down. On the fringes of Facebook's conference, it revealed a new 30-day free trial membership offer and, with it, a new strategy: an emphasis on mobile. Its app gives users access to the company's 13 million songs and, as we sit in a San Francisco café, president Jon Irwin sifts through music on his phone with a palpable excitement. He opens up a number of albums and playlists, including "19" by Adele and "Chicksongs," a user-created playlist consisting entirely of songs whose titles are a female name. Users consume 30% more music on mobile devices than on desktops, he notes.
Irwin has never been a fan of the so-called "freemium" business model. But he admits that Rhapsody's free trial is exactly that: a taste of the product with certain restrictions -- in this case, a time limit. He stresses that it is different from competitors' offers. By comparison, Spotify's free version is ad supported, restricted to desktop usage and caps the number of song plays after six months. Rhapsody has tried the tactic before, offering two-week and 60-day free trials. Both required users to submit credit card information, deterring many from signing up.
It's not yet clear how Facebook will impact the company either. Its 800 million active users will soon be able to post what songs they are currently listening to while friends will be able to listen instantly via partnering music services. That could provide a huge swell of traffic, but also sharpen competition. Irwin believes smaller providers, such as Mixcloud and Rdio, will eventually fall to the wayside in the battle for Facebook's users. Irwin thinks the scheme will favor the services with the most existing customers, helping Rhapsody. "One advantage that we have right out of the gate is that, in the on demand music business, Rhapsody is by far the largest," he says.
Indeed, Rhapsody has been a success with diehard music fans and could find itself with a legion of devoted listeners sharing music on Facebook. According to the NPD group, Rhapsody users spend the most money on physical CDs and digital downloads. "It's really for the hardcore music user," says Russ Crupnick, a consumer and retail market researcher with NPD. Hooking casual fans may be harder. "The problem is trying to turn their 800,000 subscribers to 8 million," he adds.
It's clear that Spotify is a formidable foe. It's raised millions from prominent investors including Silicon Valley's Kleiner Perkins. And it's got the hype and momentum consumer product markers crave. That could change, of course. More likely is that the two services continue to battle it out. Now that its model has been widely accepted, Rhapsody has to find a way to deal with tough competitors that have adopted it too.