Sony to sell digital music online before Christmas

Japan-only site to go live 22 December

Sony will open its first Internet-based digital music delivery service -- dubbed Bitmusic -- on 20 December. Aimed exclusively at Japanese listeners, Bitmusic will offer an initial batch of 44 singles from Sony Music artists. Whenever singles are released through record stores, they will also be made available on Bitmusic, priced at Y350 ($3.42) per download. The tracks themselves will be encoded in Sony's CD-quality ATRAC3 format, originally developed for MiniDisc but now being touted by the company as an industry-standard alternative to MP3. Listeners will initially be forced to use Microsoft's Windows Media Player to play music downloaded from Bitmusic -- Sony is providing an ATRAC decoder plug-in -- and will only be able to do so using their own PC or one of Sony's upcoming digital music players: the MemoryStick Walkman and MusicClip. And then they'll only be able to copy over each single once, though that's less of an issue if the file is transferred to a MemoryStick card. The MS Walkman goes on sale in Japan on 21 December; MusicClip on 15 January. Both will be rolled out globally later next year. Sony is marketing both devices as MP3 players, but in fact its OpenMG Jukebox software converts MP3 to ATRAC before downloading files to the player, according to a Sony spokesman at Comdex. ®

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