If you love your online music à la carte, you're going to love the buffet. That's the message that RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK) is hoping to spread to make sure that it's not just riding the coattails of the initial success of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes store.

Besides, while Apple's been at it for just six months, RealNetworks has been doing this for years already. It has just lapped the 250,000-subscriber mark for its Rhapsody service. Offering streaming access to more than 400,000 tracks for as much as Apple is charging for an album download, RealNetworks is also undercutting Apple by $0.20 on the à la carte side by offering $0.79 downloads.

With the music industry cracking down on file-trading networks, RealNetworks' timing couldn't be much better. Last night, it posted a narrower loss on an uptick in revenue with profitability likely come 2004.

Still trading in the single digits, the company's cash balance of $2.34 a share gave the stock a floor during bleak times, but what's the upside now that things are improving? Maybe some of that money can buy it a better amp. Roxio (NASDAQ:ROXI) has seen its stock soar despite lousy financials due to its high profile acquisitions in digital music. When RealNetworks acquired Listen, did anyone listen? Not really.

RealNetworks is in a much better position than its $7 share price would seem to indicate. With its popular RealOne media software giving the company access to active online music fans, the potential legitimacy of digital music won't happen without Real playing some part in the online revolution. All the company needs now is a louder conductor to make sure it gets heard.