Omnifone has unveiled a major new direct-to-consumer digital music service called Rara.com, which is launching in 16 countries today. However, it’s also the latest service to face stinging criticism from Merlin for leaving independent labels out of the picture at launch.

Rara.com is launching with deals with all four major labels, UMG, Sony Music, EMI and WMG. Its press release says that “leading independents” are also on board, although at the time of writing the company had not confirmed which labels (or distributors) this refers to.

The browser-based streaming service will launch with a catalogue of more than 10 million tracks and a deal with PC-maker HP, which will preload Rara on the majority of its computers sold in Europe. Rara will also be available on Android, iOS and other platforms. It includes radio-style ‘curated music channels’ as well as on-demand streams.

Rara will be subscription-based, charging $4.99 / £4.99 / €4.99 a month for web-only access, and $9.99 / £9.99 / €9.99 a month for web and mobile access – both standard prices for this kind of service. A launch offer will see Rara users paying just $0.99 / £0.99 a month for the first three months, to tempt them to give the service a try.

Today’s 16 launch countries are the USA, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Canada, Mexico and five other markets will follow this week.

Merlin – and separately Beggars Group – have confirmed to Music Ally that they have not licensed Rara, and it’s fair to say that Merlin CEO Charles Caldas isn’t mincing his words when giving his opinion of the company’s strategy.

“I am truly astounded that any company could still be so absurdly arrogant and short sighted as to ask consumers to spend good money on what is an incomplete and inherently inferior product to many that are already in the market,” says Caldas in a statement released to journalists.

“Despite the fact that independents represent a third of the market and that the biggest artist in the world this year is released by an independent, we still see a service launched without a deal in place with the world’s key indies as represented by Merlin – meaning the service will not feature some of the most important artists in the world.”

Caldas adds that Merlin has signed deals with Omnifone in the past, so is particularly peeved at being left out this time round. “I am sure consumers won’t be hoodwinked by more smoke and mirrors, not when there are comprehensive services available to them.”

Update: Rara.com’s chairman Rob Lewis has provided a statement to Music Ally responding to this: “We are surprised at some commentary suggesting that rara.com has deliberately not included the catalogues of certain  independents in the global launch of rara.com today,” says Lewis.

“This is not the case. rara.com has sought and is seeking to include every significant independent in the catalogue, giving independents access to the global scale rara.com offers. We look forward to continuing and concluding all such negotiations.”

Rara and Omnifone have built bridges with at least one artist: Imogen Heap, who has agreed to sit on its Music Advisory Board as an associate editor. “I’m really excited to be an associate editor for rara.com. As an artist in this transitional music business phase I believe that rara.com is heading sharply in the right direction,” she says in a statement.

“I’ve travelled the world this year and have realised that even if fans want to pay for artists’ work consuming it legally online can often be very difficult. rara.com is a super easy service for everyone to use and I love the information on tracks and artists that rara.com gives you.”

Pitching Rara as artist-friendly is a smart move, given the ongoing row (and album holdouts) around rivals like Spotify. That said, it remains to be seen whether the likes of Coldplay, Adele, Snow Patrol and the Black Keys are any more likely to give the green light for their latest albums to be streamed on Rara than they are on rival services.

Meanwhile, alienating Merlin and large independents like Beggars Group is something of a surprise, given previous publicity around such omissions in new digital services.

The service is being launched by Rara Media Group, with Omnifone as a partner. However, a quick check on Companies House reveals that the company itself has actually been going since 2004, and has gone through several name changes – Tuckwood No. 123, Omnifone USA and Omnifone Direct before changing its name to Rara Media Group on 1 December. Rara directors include Omnifone CEO Jeff Hughes and chairman Rob Lewis.