Internet music download company Napster launched a Japanese service yesterday aimed at tapping the growing demand for music-to-go and catching up with Apple's iTunes in one of the world's biggest music markets.
The service was to go live online at 10pm last night, offering more than 1.5 million Japanese and foreign tunes.
"As the second-largest music market in the world, Japan presents a very large economic opportunity for Napster," Brad Duea, the company's president, said during a pre-launch news conference in Tokyo.
The Japanese service puts US-based Napster Inc in head-to-head competition with Apple's iPod and its online music store iTunes, which opened in Japan last year and became an instant hit with the country's tech-savvy younger set.
Napster Japan is a joint-venture between Napster and Tower Records Japan, with Los Angeles-based Napster owning 31.5 percent and Tower Records Japan holding 53.5 percent. The remainder is held by an investment group.
Napster is offering three different download options. The basic plan carries a monthly price of ¥1,280 (US$10.87) and allows unlimited downloads to as many as three personal computers.
The Napster to Go service costs ¥1,980 a month for unlimited downloads to three computers and three portable devices, such as MP3 players or mobile phones.
The third service is an a la carte service charging ¥150 per Western song and ¥200 for Japanese songs.
Between the basic and to-go plans, Napster Japan will go online with a total of 1.9 million songs, nearly double the 1 million songs offered by iTunes when it was launched in Japan last year.
While only about 10 percent of the offerings will be by Japanese artists, Napster Japan chief executive Hiroyuki Fushitani said he expects the number Japanese songs to increase as Napster wins over fans.
ITunes now offers about 2 million songs in Japan but runs only on an a la carte service at ¥150 a song.
Napster Japan hopes to outmaneuver iTunes by offering the all-you-can-download monthly subscription service.
It is also banking on a partnership with NTT DoCoMo, Japan's biggest mobile phone company, under which DoCoMo will roll out new handsets that will be able to download and play Napster songs in a fashion similar to Apple's iPod.