SAN FRANCISCO — Will the Dixie Chicks produce more clicks?
Yahoo Inc. plans to find out. The Internet giant said it would introduce today a Web search engine dedicated to music and other digital audio files.
The program will be the first from a major search engine to tap into the catalogs of online music services such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes and RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody. It could steer a new generation of consumers to try such services.
"I think it's going to do well for the consumer and for all of us who get listed there," said Michael Schutzler, RealNetworks senior vice president of marketing.
Yahoo aims to make the program a hub for people seeking information about music, as well as access to the music itself.
For example, Web surfers who type "U2" into the search box will find a discography, album reviews, news stories and websites about the band, sites selling concert tickets, snippets of songs and a list of services selling the tunes.
Yahoo will get a commission for sending customers to the listed music services. But with the industry's razor-thin margins, Yahoo doesn't expect the service, which is ad-free, to generate much revenue.
Yahoo has its own subscription music service, but its executives said the audio search engine wouldn't favor it over competing services: They will be listed alphabetically, which will generally put Yahoo at the bottom.
Instead, Yahoo executives say they are more interested in using Yahoo Audio Search to win loyal users for its search engine, which is trying to catch up to that of Google Inc.
"Come for our audio search, stay for our [Web] search," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo's director of technology development.
Yahoo's software also will crawl the Web for user-created content to add to its searchable index. The amount of such content on the Internet is soaring. Unsigned artists post songs for free downloads. Radio stations, celebrities and consumers also make audio programs known as podcasts available for download.
"With the content scattered everywhere, there's an even more urgent need for search technology," said Jordan Rohan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.
As it crawls the Web, however, Yahoo's software won't be able to tell the difference between a garage band's free download and a copyrighted song posted illegally. Horowitz said Yahoo would rely on record labels to ask for removal of pirated songs.
But Horowitz said Yahoo took one measure to avoid upsetting the record labels: The audio search results won't link to song-lyric websites because most of them are violating copyrights.