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Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Microsoft launches first online music service in Europe

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Microsoft has stolen a march on rival Apple by signing a deal with a digital music company backed by singer Peter Gabriel to launch the first internet download service in Europe to sell individual tracks.

The new venture will be accessed through Microsoft's Windows Media Player software and will allow users to download songs from a choice of more than 200,000 by major artists.

Apple's iTunes service, which sold more than 6.5 million tracks in three months since launching in the US, has been heralded as a success because it allows users to download tracks at a set price and then copy them to CDs or portable players.

OD2, Peter Gabriel's company, said single tracks would be available from about ?0.75 each while albums would cost ?7.99, considerably cheaper than their in-store counterparts.

"For the first time, millions of music fans across Europe will be able to buy individual tracks from all five major labels," said Jonathan Usher, the director of Windows Media Division.

The five record groups, all of which have signed deals with OD2, have also promised to supply exclusive singles before they are available in the shops.

They hope this will encourage fans to pay for the track rather than downloading it illegally from file sharing sites. A successful launch could assuage industry fears that fans are becoming bored with tracks before they hit the shelves.

There are also hopes that downloading could help revive flagging singles sales. Tracks bought through the service are expected to be eligible for the charts from later this year.

Media Player will link to either Microsoft's own MSN service or one operated by the Italian internet company Tiscali.

Charles Grimsdale, chief executive of OD2, said he expected to have at least 300,000 tracks available through the service within a matter of weeks.

With the might of Microsoft behind the launch, record companies are hoping that the service will turn the tide against illegal downloads.

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