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Napster UK goes live

Launches well ahead of key rivals

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Napster stole a march on its rivals today by launching the UK incarnation of its online music service immediately - rather sooner than the "end of summer" timeframe it had previously provided.

Napster UK is online now and ready for business, CEO Chris Gorog said in London this morning.

"We believe the Internet distribution of music will replace physical distribution in the next decade," he said.

British music fans - well, those with Windows 2000 or XP PCs, at any rate - can fetch Napster's jukebox app. and begin downloading songs for £1.09 ($1.94) a go, or in album-length batches for £9.95 ($17.74).

Punters can also take out a monthly £9.95 subscription, which provides unlimited downloads. However, they also have to pay £0.99 ($1.77) every time they want to burn the song or copy it to a portable music player. Again, batch burn/transfer rights can be acquired for £9.95 an album.

Essentially, that leaves the subscription version as little more than a glorified radio station, and one you pay for, at that. What it does offer is the ability to share playlists with anyone else, though only fellow subscribers can actually download the songs listed.

The company will also provide Track Packs - bundled songs for a fixed fee. £43.99 ($78.43) buys 50 tracks, £29.99 ($53.47) 25 songs and £14.25 ($25.41) 15.

Napster's time-limited pre-pay cards are also available, offering 15 songs for £14.85 ($26.48).

Buyers today have access to 500,000 songs, and Gorog promised a further 200,000 would be added within the next 30 days. He also said the service contains a read-out of the official UK charts for the last ten years and pledged that all of the songs listed are available for purchase.

Gorog claimed the 700,000-song library was the world's largest, though Apple's iTunes Music Store has already reached that total. However, Napster UK will certainly be one of the largest collections available over here, particularly when those 200,000 tracks - more than many similar UK-based services are offering, period - are added.

Napster UK's launch also kicked off with a free seven-day trial subscription, though you'll have until 27 May - just seven days - to activate it. Following the company's deal with Dixons earlier this month, expect to see Napster branded CD-Rs and other accessories appear in stores today, along with free copies of Napster's iTunes-style jukebox/download/rip application.

Samsung launched its Napster-branded portable music player, the YH-920GS, in the UK today, too. The device contains a 20GB hard drive and an FM tune with recording to MP3 and line-in MP3 encoding. Measuring 10.6 x 5.9 x 1.6cm and weighing 149.5g, the YH-920GS includes a built-in 3.7V rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery providing up to ten hours' playback time.

The YH-920GS will be available "Summer 2004". Samsung did not provide pricing.

In a dig at Apple's iPod-only, Napster president Brad Duea touted his services' focus on "choice", and claimed the service would support over 60 portable music players. ®

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