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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 01:30 GMT
Tesco begins music-download site
Stereo headphones
Demand for music downloading has grown enormously
Tesco, the UK's biggest supermarket chain, is launching an online music service on Monday which it hopes will rival Apple's market-leading iTunes.

Demand has grown for music available over the internet and Tesco estimates the UK market is now worth 25m.

Tesco said its digital music store will use Microsoft's Windows Media Player and will charge 79 pence per song.

It plans to offer more than 500,000 tracks and says its system will give users improved sound quality.

"Music buying is changing," said Laura Wade Gery, chief executive of Tesco.com.

"We know that for the first time dads are spending more on music each week than their teenage sons."

Free vs fee

Downloading services had something of a controversial birth.

Early on computer users would "rip", or load, music onto their computers and then offer other people access to the files.

This free file-sharing was blamed for a drop in record sales and the industry identified it as a major threat to its future.

Since then there has been a surge in the number of legal websites offering music for a fee and with the blessing of record companies.

Music download services
iTunes running on an Apple iMac computer
500,000 tracks at 79p each
700,000 tracks at 79p each
1m tracks at 99p each
350,000 tracks at 80p each
350,000 tracks at 80p each
350,000 tracks at 69p each
350,000 tracks, 50 annual subscription

On Friday, Microsoft launched its MSN music download service in eight more European countries.

Napster, one of the original peer-to-peer file-sharing companies, launched a UK service earlier this year.

Other firms offering downloads include Wippit, Mycokemusic.com, Virgin Megastores and Wanadoo.

Tesco said it expected demand to pick up as the price of digital music players, or MP3 players, dropped.

"As the price of portable digital players falls, customers will demand more choice," said Ms Gery.

"That is what we are delivering."

The shopping chain said it chose to use Microsoft's Media Player as it is compatible with, and can be loaded onto, a large proportion of portable players on the market, apart from Apple's iPod.

The success of the iPod portable music player, launched in October 2001, re-energised the whole music download market.

It is credited with helping turn around Apple's fortunes and making its iTunes service the world's most popular music download site.

Tesco, however, reckons there is market share to be taken and will be hoping to replicate the success of Wal-Mart in the US.

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