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Universal Music’s plan to challenge Radio

Okay, technically, it’s Universal’s plan to challenge Apple’s dominance of downloadable music. But the implications for radio are just as clear.

…insiders say [Universal head Doug] Morris & Co. have an intriguing business model: get hardware makers or cell carriers to absorb the cost of a roughly $5-per-month subscription fee so consumers get a device with all-you-can-eat music that’s essentially free. Music companies would collect the subscription fee, while hardware makers theoretically would move many more players.

The proposed service would be called Total Music.

With the Total Music service, Morris and his allies are trying to hit reset on how digital music is consumed. In essence, Morris & Co. are telling consumers that music is a utility to which they are entitled, like water or gas. Buy one of the Total Music devices, and you’ve got it all. Ironically, the plan takes Jobs’ basic strategy– getting people to pay a few hundred bucks for a music player but a measly 99 cents for the music that gives it value–and pushes it to its extreme. After all, the Total Music subscriber pays only for the device–and never shells out a penny for the music. “You know that it’s there, and it costs something,” says one tech company executive who has seen Morris’ presentation. “But you never write a check for it.”

So what do you call a wide selection of music, wirelessly delivered and mobile, that offers all your favorite songs as well as the chance to discover new ones – and it’s all free?

You call it “radio.”

Except in this case, it’s radio with no commercials.

What’s the difference between streaming and downloading if all the music is free? Isn’t it likely that this service, if it materializes, will offer “streaming stations” as well as individually downloadable songs (just as Yahoo’s Music service does)?

You bet it is.

Stay tuned.

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