- 16 Sep 08, 15:12 GMT
Every day seems to bring a new announcement from the world of digital music. Yesterday it was the ailing Napster subscription service being bought by Best Buy (sorry, too much alliteration).
Today it's the UK's 7digital trumpeting deals with the record labels which it says make it Europe's biggest purveyor of DRM-free music. And next month sees the arrival of "Comes With Music", Nokia's new service promising free music downloads with a handset contract. What they are all attempting to do is loosen the extraordinary stranglehold that Apple's iTunes has over the market.
It's going to be tough. The subscription model favoured by the likes of Napster and eMusic was one strategy, which now seems to be fading, just as the talk of an iTunes subscription service gets louder. Napster gathered around 700,000 subscribers but still ended up making a big loss. I've recently tried out another service eMusic, and am wondering why - it is hard to navigate, and appears to have a limited library for a £10 a month subscription.
7Digital appears to offer a more compelling proposition - a straightforward download store with a wide range of music from the four big labels, and at prices that look very competitive. But having tried it once a few months ago, I haven't returned. Why - the i word. No not iTunes, but inertia. What Apple has achieved is to make millions of computer users extremely comfortable with the whole concept of downloading and paying for music. That is a big - and lazy - crowd and having got into the habit of using iTunes, many will take a lot of persuading to move elsewhere.
But it's the mobile market that could prove the chink in Apple's armour. There are far more people using Nokia mobile phones than iPods, and in the coming months they're going to be asked a simple question. Do you want to get "free" music with your mobile - or would you prefer to pay for every track from iTunes? Now of course there are plenty of other questions to be answered about the nature of "free" (just how much more am I going to pay for this handset than one without music?) but you can see the appeal of Nokia's proposition.
And it won't be alone. Best Buy didn't snaffle up Napster for its subscription service, but for its mobile platform, which could end up on phones sold in stores across the US and the UK. So the battle for the digital music market is about to get a whole lot hotter.
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