Can Qtrax keep its promise of 'free' music?

Qtrax looks promising, but will it ever get off the ground properly?

Free music! Totally legal! Download anything you like! 25 million songs to choose from!

So said the Qtrax publicity machine, anyway. Due to go live today, the new 'legal' P2P site has generated untold excitement across the web with its promise that users would be able to browse its 25 million-strong catalogue of music and download songs to compatible MP3 players for free, all for enduring a few adverts.

Ad-supported music downloads

In fact, in some quarters Qtrax's ambitious plan for a legal, advert-supported digital download service has been hyped up as a radical new business model that might just rescue the music industry from its illegal file-sharing woes.

Under Qtrax's model record labels forfeit their traditional 'per song' revenue in exchange for a percentage of the site's advertising revenue. Users will reportedly be forced to view these adverts, although it's not known exactly how this might work yet.

Or, indeed, whether anything will actually work at all. It's now almost a day after the service was due to go live and there's only a feature-limited Beta client for download, while the Qtrax President, Allan Klepfisz, has admitted things are being held up "for a short time".

Meanwhile, the four big labels - Sony-BMG, Universal, Warner and EMI - are only now talking with Qtrax about permission to use their copyrighted material as claimed.

Perhaps today's 'launch' date was really just a publicity push designed to generate as much interest in the new site as possible. If that's the case, then it's certainly worked.

Assuming Qtrax does eventually launch, we rather suspect it will be another spanner in the works that prevents it from usurping iTunes, and that's the reported incompatibility of the Qtrax download format with Apple's iPod player.

The site says it is working on this and hopes to come up with a solution, but we have to say that it does all look a bit half-baked at present. No doubt the situation will change rapidly, so keep an eye on for updates.