While the debate around downloads continues apace, Last.fm has come-up with a novel way of providing music for the digital nation. Eschewing the download, the website will instead provide a free streaming service, allowing you to listen to complete tracks from your favourite artists without spending a penny.

And what's more, despite the lack of charge, unsigned artists who sign-up for the service will receive royalties every time you tune in to one of their tracks...

The website, www.last.fm, has done a deal with four major record labels – EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner – as well as more than 150,000 independent imprints, allowing you access to a huge volume of music online from established artists and fresh talent alike.

Select a track and you'll be able to stream and listen to it up to three times before you're encouraged to pay for the track via linked online stores such as iTunes and Amazon. A soon-to-be announced subscription service will give the user unlimited listens of the tracks, and more – we await further details on that.

A share of any third-party download sales together with advertising on the website will help pay for the service, which is live now in the UK, US and Germany, with plans to extend the service globally over the next few months.

So, is streaming the downloading? Would you rather own the track, or is a few listens enough? We some how doubt it, but for the bored at work – not us, of course – it's an interesting concept. Let us know what you think by posting a comment or starting a discussion on our Forums.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,