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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 09:46 GMT
Europe's online music plans
by Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Online music services Napster and iTunes are the biggest brand names in the online music world but are US only. What can European music lovers use?

Napster
Napster has no plans for European launch

There is no greater sign of the music industry getting to grips with online music than the rebirth of Napster as a paid-for service.

Admittedly, Napster 2.0 is not a return to the pioneering service which shook the industry to its foundations, but as a brand name it has global appeal.

The availability of 500,000 songs at 99c (69p) per track and $9.95 for a whole album is one more big step forward for legitimate online music services.

Other positive signs include the remarkable success of Apple's iTunes, which has removed any lingering doubt that people are willing to pay for their music online.

But iTunes and Napster, along with other giants Listen.com and Music Match, are US-only.

Apple has plans to launch iTunes in Europe but there is no sign the other services will follow.

But that does not mean there is a lack of such services in Europe.

More than 210,000 songs from the big five labels can be downloaded in Europe, mainly through the distribution company OD2 .

A summary of Europe's services
Wippit
Vitaminic
Epitonic
HMV
Virgin Megastores
MTV
Dotmusic
Tiscali
It provides the technology for a host of legitimate services, including those provided by HMV, Tiscali and Dotmusic as well as internet service provider Freeserve and portal MSN.

Frustration

UK-based services Wippit and Vitaminic also provide online music services with a less mainstream offering, offering a further 60,000 songs.

But the services in the UK and around Europe have yet to become household names like their US counterparts.

Click here find out about our Napster online forum

"There is a frustration for us, for retailers and for record companies that there is low awareness of what is available here," said Paul Smith, marketing manager for OD2.

He added: "If we had it our way there would be one big brand in Europe but we have to remember our place in the food chain."

OD2 describes itself as the interface between retailers and the music industry but the company may be planning to launch as a service in its own right.

Apple can plough millions of dollars into marketing and there is no reason that retailers here cannot do the same
Paul Smith, OD2
He said the success of iTunes had had a knock-on effect in Europe.

"The success of iTunes has been a useful catalyst in bringing the issue of online music to the attention of record company chairmen. It is the first item in their in-tray now."

'Indiana is not Italy'

Paul Myers, chief executive of Wippit, said the big record labels had yet to wake up to the needs of the European market.

"We are being treated as the poor relations. If it works in the US, then they think it will work in Europe. But Indiana is not Italy."

Music can be bought online in Europe from 40 different internet retailers at a cost of about 99 pence per single track.

But different firms put different limitations on what can be done with that music, such as transfering to portable devices and copying on to CDs.

In the US the choice of music is wider, the limitations looser, and the cost lower, but Mr Smith said that reflected different markets at different stages.

OD2 has just under a million tracks ready to go online but the "operational and logistical difficulties" were preventing the company from putting them online.

But Mr Smith said he did expect the million-strong library to be available at the end of next year.

Wippit has just signed a deal with EMI and will be expanding its roster of songs in the near future.

Mr Smith called on online retailers to increase the marketing behind their online services.

"We are relying on the marketing of the retailers.

"Apple can plough millions of dollars into marketing and there is no reason that retailers here cannot do the same."




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