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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Music download market to heat up
Roger Daltrey of The Who
The Who will give HMV's new service its opening fanfare
Two of the UK's biggest High Street music stores are to launch download services, to compete in a market dominated by PC and software firms.

Virgin launches its service on Friday 2 September with HMV launching its rival HMV Digital service three days later.

Both rely on a subscription model where users can listen to any music - as long as they keep paying a monthly fee.

Apple's iTunes service, in contrast, asks users to pay per track or album, but sets no time limit.

HMV and Virgin hope that by leveraging their brands, the new services will tempt older music lovers away from CDs and into the digital age of downloading.

All you can eat?

In opting for the subscription system, both stores have followed the lead of iTunes' numerous competitors such as software giant Microsoft and Napster, reborn from the failed file-swapping service of the same name.

Since we opened in 1921 we've sold every type of format, now we're providing another way people may want to buy
Gennaro Castaldo, HMV

HMV and Virgin are each planning to charge 14.99 a month for access to their libraries of more than a million tunes apiece.

As long as the money keeps coming, users should be able to transfer their downloads onto a portable music player - albeit not Apple's market-leading iPod. Virgin is also offering a cheaper, 9.99 option which rules out portable devices.

If they stop paying, however, the music will become unuseable. To hold onto a tune permanently, users will have to pay an additional fee for each track or album.

Most individual tracks will be priced at 79 pence, although HMV says it will offer record labels the option to price new artists at lower rates to attract interest.

"I think in time the public will realise that there is a vast choice available to them," HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo said.

"The iPod has been so successful because it is a fashion item as much as anything else, but fashions tend to change in time."

Wide appeal

Possibly to underline the inter-generational appeal of downloading, HMV will be using old rockers The Who and their anthem My Generation as the service's opening fanfare.

HMV's Mr Castaldo said the move was the firm's way to allow people access to a new format for music.

"Since we opened in 1921 we've sold every type of format, now we're providing another way people may want to buy," he told BBC News.

However, some commentators claim that the two stores have taken their time to climb aboard the digital bandwagon.

By July legal downloads for 2005 had topped the 10 million mark, more than double the figure for the whole of last year, according to figures from the BPI.

In the UK downloads make up just 2% of music sales - for the worldwide market the figure is 5% - but such is their popularity that in April this year, downloads of singles were included in the official UK charts for the first time.

The Who help launch download site
30 Aug 05 |  Entertainment

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