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Apple and Napster expand online music services

Apple and Napster, two of the world’s leading online music providers, are this week announcing separate initiatives to expand their distribution services internationally.

Apple, the US computer maker, is expected to launch its popular internet music store in Europe tomorrow, in an attempt to build on the company’s considerable success in the US online music market.

Napster, a subsidiary of US media company Roxio, will today unveil a partnership with NTL to offer music subscriptions to the UK cable group’s 1m broadband customers.

The two initiatives follow agreement with music publishers over complex distribution rights in Europe.

Apple, whose iTunes store and iPod digital music player have all but defined the US internet music market, has scheduled a press conference in London tomorrow, claiming “the biggest story in music is about to get bigger”.

One person in the industry said Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, was expected to be on hand to announce Apple’s music store would immediately be available to consumers in the UK, Germany and France. Mr Jobs was also expected to announce plans to eventually roll out the service to other European countries.

“There’s clearly been a lot of pent up demand for it. I think it will have a pretty good reception,” said the person.

The Napster tie-up with NTL follows its launch last month of a UK download service, its first in Europe.

Brad Duea, president of Napster, said: “This is a significant deal for Napster because we are partnering with the biggest provider of broadband services in the UK, and NTL’s own research has shown that over 75 per cent of broadband customers download music each month.”

Apple is hoping to build on the phenomenal success of its music store in the US, where it has sold more than 70m songs over the internet since launching in April 2003. The company has said it controls more than 70 per cent of the US market for legal music downloads.

The group’s music store features a user-friendly interface and easy-to-use software with which consumers can download songs for 99 cents. The popular music store has helped generate strong demand for Apple’s iPod digital music player, the only portable device that can play songs from the iTunes music store.

Apple and Napster are seeking customers among music fans who download tracks from the internet. Legitimate services are fighting against illegal file sharers who copy some of the 700m pirated tracks on the web, which costs the music industry an estimated $2.4bn in lost sales.

It was not clear how much Apple would charge for each song download in Europe but retail music prices in Europe are higher than in the US and Apple’s music store was not expected to counter that trend.

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