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Sony Connect to launch 5 July, late

And with only 500,000 songs

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Sony's online music service, Connect, will launch in the UK, France and Germany next week offering 500,000 songs.

The service will go live on Monday, 5 July, followed by stores for Switzerland, Austria, the Scandinavian countries and The Netherlands by the end of the year. Spanish and Italian stores will open in the spring of 2005. The dates come from Robert Ashcroft, VP of Sony Network Services in Europe, cited by news agency AFP.

Monday's launch represents a late arrival. In March, Sony said it would launch its first three European stores in June. Even Sony's electronics division was under the impression that this was the intention - its press release announcing the launch of the company first hard disk-based Walkman referred to Connect Europe "which launched [past-tense] in June".

Ah, well. Hopefully Sony will have spent the extra time wisely, updating its European service to avoid the issues that have led at least one critic of the US version to call it an "embarrassment".

Connect will offer content from all five major recording companies and "approximately 150" independent labels. This could be seen as a dig at Apple. Its iTunes Music Store has so far failed to win the support of European indies, with only "dozens" of labels' songs in its catalogue.

Indeed, Ashcroft derided Apple's claim to offer 700,000 songs - 200,000 more than Connect. "I don't know where Apple gets its famous 700,000 titles from," he said. "We have signed up with everyone, and we don't come out with that figure."

He neglected to mention Napster, which also touts a song catalogue of 700,000-odd tracks.

Like Apple, Connect will offer songs for £0.79 in the UK and €0.99 in other territories. Unlike Apple, it turns out Connect is based in Germany, where it will be having to cope with a 16 per cent sales tax, rather more than the three per cent Apple pays by incorporating an ITMS subsidiary, iTunes SARL, in Luxembourg.

Industry sources claim Apple is losing money on some record label deals because of its price-point. However, Ashcroft claimed Connect would make money. "The rule at Sony is for each activity to be profitable," he said. "We will not be an exception to that rule." ®

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