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Apple iTunes Europe shifts 0.8m songs in first week

Over half in the UK

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Earlier this year, European digital music distributor OD2 announced that users of the service it sells via a variety of ISPs, high street music retailers and others had downloaded 1m songs in the first three months of the year.

Apple today said that its European iTunes Music Store had sold almost that number in its first week.

The exact total is somewhere just over 800,000, more than half of which (450,000) were downloaded in the UK.

To be fair, Apple gave away the best part of 20,000 songs at ITMS' launch last week, and since they were provided through its regular gift voucher mechanism rather than special offer codes, they'll almost certainly count toward the total. Not that they may all have been redeemed yet.

Apple also drew a comparison with OD2, which yesterday announced its acquisition by US digital music distie Loudeye, claiming that the UK weekly sales total of 450,000 was 16 times more than OD2 shipped: over 28,100 songs.

Apple did not provide a source for its estimate of OD2's sales figures, which is well under the weekly rate you'd expect from a service that had already shipped 1m songs in a three-month period. One million songs a quarter comes to around 77,000 downloads a week. That said, in a week dominated by Apple's launch, it shouldn't surprise anyone that other services might see a dip.

Apple didn't mention Napster, which like OD2, does not provide regular download tallies. Napster UK has said it is "very pleased" with its download figures to date, but that could as easily indicate a 'glad to get anything' target as a sign that significant numbers of songs have been downloaded from the service.

If Apple maintains its current run rate, it should notch up annual European downloads of over 41.6m songs. Assuming a roughly 50:50 sale ration between the UK and everyone else, that amounts to roughly £30.1m ($54.8m), with no allowance for Euro to Sterling exchange rate fluctuations. If the European stores see the kind of growth the US has seen, that figure is likely to rise considerably.

Revenue is one thing, of course, income another. Music industry insiders claim that Apple's £0.79 per track in the UK sets a bar other services will find it hard to match, not least because Apple is believed to be losing money on some songs. It can do so because, unlike Napster and the others, iPod sales can subsidise ITMS.

Sony's digital music service, Connect, has the same goal: to sell more hardware, in this case MiniDisc players. And it's doubly a problem for Napster, now it's actually having to give away hardware to encourage sales.

Playing the numbers game is a canny move on Apple's part. Big numbers suggest relative popularity. While its rivals stay silent, their claims about the success they've achieved look suspicious, which in turn plays into Apple's hands as far as its market leadership claims go. ®

Related stories

Apple opens iTunes in the UK, France and Germany
Peter Gabriel sells OD2
OD2 clocks up 1m downloads in Q1
Napster gives away MP3 players
Music biz fears play Apple a compliment
Napster UK goes live
Oxfam enters music download biz

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