- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

Site offers digital songs

for Christian music fans

In the burgeoning music-downloading industry, Apple’s ITunes may be the coolest and most dominant player.

But a new company is eyeing the family-friendly niche, promising parents they won’t have to worry about their children listening to obscene or explicit lyrics again.

SongTouch.com, touted as the “Christian Napster,” recently introduced a digital music store for the rapidly growing group of Christian and inspirational music fans.

The Internet site already offers 18,000 titles ranging from gospel to rock, at 99 cents per download or by subscription, and a host of other features, including articles and video clips about Christian music artists.

“ITunes is the leader. They are the cool faction,” acknowledged David Dickinson, SongTouch’s vice president of operations. “We think safe and family-friendly is the place to be.”

Michael Goodman, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, a Boston technology research firm, has conducted research on the music-downloading industry. He said SongTouch’s business model makes sense.

“It could be a nice little segment for these guys,” Mr. Goodman said. “You’ll never see the kinds of numbers from these guys that you do from an ITunes or Musicmatch or Napster because [Christian music] is a specialized market. But it probably is an underserved market.”

Mr. Goodman estimates music-downloading revenues will come close to doubling this year from a range of $300 million to $330 million in 2004.

He reported last fall that 21 percent of all Internet users downloaded music at some point in the previous three months, up from 12 percent a year before.

Factors fueling the growth include an industry crackdown on music piracy and the growth of “a la carte” digital music stores, such as ITunes, Napster, Musicmatch and Wal-Mart.

Sizzling growth in the Christian music genre buoys SongTouch’s hopes.

In the past decade, Christian music CDs have jumped by 10 percent to nearly 50 million units, while the rest of the music industry has stagnated. “Praise and worship” CD sales alone have doubled since 2000, nearing 20 million units sold.

SongTouch is backed by Howard Rachinski’s Touch Inc. and the Christian Copyright Licensing International.

CCLI is the world’s largest provider of Christian music licensing, reaching 200,000 churches around the world, including nearly 140,000 in the United States. The licensing program allows churches to copy and distribute inspirational and religious music to their congregations.

Mr. Rachinski has said SongTouch is an extension of his lifelong goal to expand access to faith-based music.

SongTouch debuted April 12 at the Gospel Music Association’s annual conference, endorsed by popular Christian vocalist Nichole Nordeman and heavy-metal group Pillar.

Touch Inc.’s corporate offices are in Portland, Ore., and SongTouch’s Web content and hosting offices are in Nashville, Tenn.

Mr. Dickinson, who lives in Colorado, called himself a “jack-of-all-trades,” helping direct SongTouch’s marketing, operations and business development strategy.

He formerly worked for the Elevation Group, a sports and entertainment marketing agency, and before that for US West and MCI.

He didn’t have a music industry background, but said he was convinced SongTouch would be a unique opportunity and was on the cusp of a powerful new medium.

SongTouch’s target audience includes 13- to 16-year-olds, college-age youth and 28- to 36-year-olds, Mr. Dickinson said. The company is trying to differentiate itself from the growing crop of digital music stores, such as Wal-Mart, which offers songs at 88 cents, by providing additional content and programs for consumers.

The SongTouch.com Internet site includes press articles about artists, and features a new, four-minute video on selected artists every other week.

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