Competition to create the digital world's leading destination for music fans intensifies as Billboard joins the fray Wednesday with a revamped website for pop music enthusiasts.
The effort pits the 115-year-old trade publication — owned by Nielsen — against rivals including AOL, Clear Channel, MySpace and Yahoo. Billboard says it has an edge because its site, for the first time, will allow all visitors, not just subscribers, to look at Billboard's weekly sales lists from the past 51 years.
"We're taking our charts and putting them on steroids," says Billboard Publisher Howard Appelbaum. "You'll be able to use the chart to discover everything about the artists, their discography and every chart position they've ever had. You just can't get that anywhere else."
There will be separate pages at www.billboard.com for every act that's made the charts. Visitors can read about their history, trade comments with other fans, hear songs, watch videos and buy recordings and concert tickets.
Most material will come from existing services. Lala.com provides the streamed music and handles sales of MP3 downloads. Ticketmaster processes concert ticket sales. AMG supplies information about musicians.
That could pose a challenge as Billboard tries to attract attention. "Music content and information have become ubiquitous, so you have to have something unique about your offering in order for it to be sought out," Clear Channel's Evan Harrison says. Billboard hopes record companies will provide exclusive access to performances and videos.
It also will add a few technological twists to the site. Users can hear a song once for free, and pay 10 cents for unlimited additional listenings. In addition, "You can go to this week's Hot 100 chart and listen to every song on it," Appelbaum says. "Or you can plug in any date you want and we'll show you all the charts and you'll be able to create a playlist."
Billboard will also make its services available outside of its website. "We have a couple of cool apps that we're developing for iPhone and Facebook applications," says Joshua Engroff, Billboard's vice president for online.
Billboard has a strong incentive to evolve into a consumer brand as the music industry struggles to reverse years of declining sales. The print magazine's circulation fell 29%, to about 18,385 a week, from 2002 to 2008. Meanwhile, the company projects that ad sales at the website could jump 25% this year, following recent ad deals with large companies including AT&T and Visa.
If that continues, the consumer business, led by the Web, could account for 60% of Billboard's revenue in 2010, vs. 55% this year.