Jeff Bezos, Spark Capital, Bet on Aviary, a Web-Based Would-Be Adobe

aviaryLast week, Jeff Bezos made $2 billion in one day, courtesy of a massive spike in Amazon (AMZN) shares. What will he do with the extra dough?

Perhaps plow it into more startups like Aviary, a Long Island-based design software company.

Bezos, via his Bezos Expeditions fund, has followed up an 2009 investment in the company with another slug of cash. It’s part of a $7 million Series B round led by Spark Capital, best known in these parts as the guys who have made a very big bet on Twitter — which Bezos also invested in.

If you’re sick of hearing about Web startups with just a vaguest sense of a business plan, Aviary may be a refreshing change. It is trying to make money by selling cheap, Web-based alternatives to popular, expensive, design software, primarily the stuff that Adobe (ADBE) sells, like Photoshop and Illustrator. Granted, it doesn’t make much money yet: It only began selling $24.95 subscriptions to its software suite earlier this year.

Down the line, Aviary also imagines that it will be able to create an online marketplace where the creative types that use its software to bid on work assignments. Sort of like eBay (EBAY) meets Craigslist meets Etsy meets Amazon’s own Mechanical Turk.

Here’s the full press release:

Aviary Secures $7 Million in Series B Financing Led by Spark Capital

Provider of Creative Application Suite in the Cloud Makes Creation Accessible to All and Advances the Growing Digital Economy

LONG ISLAND, New York (October 26, 2009) – Aviary, Inc., a pioneer of a creative application suite in the cloud, today announced that it has received $7 million in Series B financing led by Spark Capital, with participation from existing investors, including Bezos Expeditions, a personal investment company of Jeff Bezos. With a suite of digital creation and editing software available as an online service, Aviary offers a simple and cost-effective solution for creators of all genres – from graphic design to audio editing – to express their creative talents and participate in the burgeoning market for digital goods. In conjunction with the investment, Mo Koyfman of Spark Capital will be joining Aviary’s board of directors.

“Aviary’s robust suite of online creative tools is fundamentally democratizing digital creation. Whereas the market for digital goods was once reserved exclusively for creators using proprietary desktop software, Aviary is delivering creative applications that allow anyone with a browser to participate,” said Koyfman. “And by doing so in the cloud, Aviary allows for seamless online creation, collaboration, distribution and ultimately monetization previously not possible. The Aviary model has the potential to exponentially increase the number of creators and collaborators contributing to the digital economy.”

Until now, the digital creation market has been largely dominated by desktop software solutions which are often cost prohibitive and involve complicated interfaces. By contrast, Aviary offers a powerful creative toolset in the cloud that enables professional and amateur creators alike to easily create their own digital works. The basic Aviary suite is available for free to users and includes an image editor, vector editor, audio editor and more. Users can also upgrade to the pro suite to gain commercial features such as unlimited private storage, as well as collaboration and community enhancements. For more information, visit http://aviary.com/.

“We are disrupting the status quo by eliminating the long-held barriers to digital creation and giving creators the tools they need to create, market and monetize their vision,” said Avi Muchnick, founder & CEO of Aviary, Inc. “We are extremely excited to have Spark Capital on board. Their broad-ranging internet, software and consumer experience will be a tremendous asset to us in furthering our mission to make creation accessible to creators of all genres.”

MySpace reveals new music features

MySpace has unveiled its first raft of new music features since its chief executive Owen Van Natta took over the company nearly six months ago and began repositioning the product as content distribution platform.

Google Steps Gingerly Into Music With “One Box”

madonnaGoogle insists, over and over, that it has no intention of getting into the content business. So how is it finessing its way into the music business? Very carefully.

The search giant is working on a new service that will provide searchers with streaming music, which sounds a whole lot like a content play at first blush. But Google will only be offering limited bits of music, and it will be relying on other companies to actually provide the tunes.

Sources describe the service, which they refer to as “One Box,” as a refined set of answers for music queries. The idea: Punch in, say, “Madonna,” and you’ll be presented with one or more songs, which may be partial clips or full-length versions, then guided to other sites where you can purchase the music.

That is: If you’re looking for Google (GOOG) to launch a rival to Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes or to music streaming services like iMeem and MySpace Music, this isn’t it.

In fact, Google is actually partnering, in a way, with News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace: iLike, the music start-up that MySpace purchased earlier this year, is one of the two services providing music to Google, industry sources tell me. The other is Lala.com, which has a novel streams-plus-cheap-songs concept. (This is presumably one of the “big announcements” Lala founder Bill Nyguen was referring to yesterday when I spoke to him).

UPDATE: Streaming music service imeem will also be providing songs for the new service, I’m told by people familiar with Google’s plans.

At this point I’m not clear how Google and the labels will determine how much of a song a searcher will be able to listen to. Last I time I checked, iLike didn’t have the ability to provide full song streams at all. And Lala’s licenses only allow the service to provide listeners with a full song once–after that, they have to purchase the track from the service.

One other note: “OneBox” is the name of an existing Google feature that offers up not just links, but actual answers to certain queries. (Think of weather, or stock results). So while it’s possible that Google intends to brand the service with that name, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the term the company has been using internally and with the labels, and that the service will have a different name when it launches.

TechCrunch first reported about the service this morning.

What Do You Want to Know About the “Nook,” Barnes & Noble’s New E-Reader?

nook smallNot sure what Barnes & Noble has to say about the “Nook” that it didn’t discuss yesterday, when it unveiled its new e-reader. But the bookseller’s press conference this morning, scheduled for 9:30 EDT, gives us an opportunity to try a little crowd-sourcing experiment: Send me any questions you have and I’ll try to ask the company on your behalf.

You can reach me via email (peter@allthingsd.com) or by leaving a comment below. I can’t promise any results, but I’ll do my best.

For the record: From afar, the Nook appears very similar to Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle, with a few additional bells and whistles–a second color screen at the bottom of the device for navigation, wireless connection from AT&T (T) instead of Sprint (S), Wi-Fi connectivity, etc. The most intriguing tweaks, from my perspective, are a “sharing” feature and the fact that the Nook runs on Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system, which might allow for interesting upgrades over time.

But all of these features seem to be aimed at tech’s earliest adopters and not the general book-buying public that Barnes & Noble (BKS), Amazon, Sony (SNE) and everyone else is hoping to court. Recall that in the early days of music players, plenty of competitors offered competitively priced gadgets with features that Apple’s (AAPL) iPod didn’t have, and today, it’s like we never heard of them. My hunch is that we might see a similar dynamic play out with e-readers.

The Early Numbers Are in: Is Rhapsody’s iPhone App a Hit?

rhapsody appThe music industry has yet to convince consumers that paying a monthly fee to listen to music is a good idea, but they’re still trying. The newest gambit: Tying the subscription services to mobile phones, so you can listen to any music you want, no matter where you are (in theory).

Spotify, the much-hyped service that has yet to appear in the US, is a mobile play. Rival MOG says it will have a mobile subscription offering in the near future as well. But the new mobile product from RealNetworks’ (RNWK) Rhapsody service has actually been up and running for a little more than the month, and the company says results are encouraging: Real says that more than 500,000 people have downloaded its app for Apple’s iPhone (AAPL).

The problem: That stat alone doesn’t mean much. You can only get streaming music through the Real app if you’re already paying the company $14.99 a month for its “Rhapsody to Go” service.

So how many app users are paying customers? And more important, how many of them became paying customers because of the app?

I’ve asked Real for comment, but don’t expect one, since they’ve typicall been close-mouthed about this stuff. But I’m told that Real has about 700,000 to 800,000 paying Rhapsody customers overall. So it’s possible that almost all of the app downloaders are already paying customers, and that the app is just a nice bonus.

Did anyone out there actually start subscribing to Rhapsody because of the iPhone app? Let me know via email or in comments below.

Vevo Gets its Investor: Abu Dhabi Media Joins “Hulu for Music Videos”

vevo-logoVevo, the music industry’s version of Hulu, now has its own version of Providence Equity, the outside investors who took a flyer on the Web TV and movie joint venture: Abu Dhabi Media Company has purchased a stake in the company from owners Universal Music and Sony (SNE). Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed, but I’m told the transaction values the joint venture at $300 million. Google’s YouTube (GOOG) isn’t an owner in the JV but will share revenue in exchange for lending Vevo its massive distribution platform.

More shortly. Here’s the release:

VEVO PARTNERS WITH ABU DHABI MEDIA COMPANY

Abu Dhabi Media Company Joins Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment
for World Class Online Premium Music Service

New York, New York, Monday, October 19, 2009…VEVO, the new premium music video and entertainment service powered by YouTube, has received a strategic investment from Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), one of the world’s fastest growing, multi-platform media organizations. The announcement was made today by Doug Morris, Chairman & CEO of Universal Music Group and Co-Chairman/Founder of VEVO, Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Entertainment & Co-Chairman of VEVO, Rio Caraeff, President & Chief Executive Officer of VEVO, H.E. Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazroui, Chairman of ADMC, and Edward Borgerding, Chief Executive Officer of ADMC. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

With this transaction, VEVO is now formed as an independent and fully funded entity with Universal Music Group (UMG), Sony Music Entertainment (SME) and Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) as founding shareholders. Funding from the shareholders will enable VEVO to come to market with an attractive premium music offering for consumers and advertisers alike.

Launching in the United States and Canada later this year with a further international roadmap to be announced, VEVO will be a premium destination and syndication network for the very best in top-notch music video content that will leverage the massive existing traffic of YouTube.

“This global partnership flags Abu Dhabi Media Company’s commitment to establish a leading position in the digital media industry. It is part of an integrated approach to expanding the global digital presence and brand portfolio of Abu Dhabi Media Company, and it illustrates our partnering approach with innovators in digital media services and technologies”, stated H.E. Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazroui, Chairman of ADMC, on joining UMG and SME to create VEVO.

“It’s a credit to the music community, and to the global opportunity that VEVO represents, that we have been able to attract such a solid investment partner with the vision and track record of Abu Dhabi Media Company,” commented Rio Caraeff, President & Chief Executive Officer of VEVO. “Abu Dhabi Media Company brings to the venture important funding support and a team with enormous global media experience and insight, and we look forward to working with them to seize the many opportunities ahead of us.”

“Consumer demand for music video entertainment is growing significantly today and is transforming the digital entertainment market and the music industry by fuelling new media business models. VEVO fits our vision and goals perfectly, as we are expanding our capabilities and continue to build the market for digital entertainment around the world.  VEVO will redefine the way premium music video entertainment is consumed, created and shared in a global community of music audiences,” said Edward Borgerding, Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi Media Company

“We’re now entering a new exciting phase in the digital media industry in the region and we’re determined to be at the forefront of it”, added Ricky Ghai, ADMC’s Executive Director, Digital Group. “With VEVO there’s real opportunity for incredible growth, as both brand advertisers and consumers are looking for new premium video experiences online.”