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Real '49c a song' promo pushes downloads to 3m

But weekly average still well below Apple's

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Real Networks claimed today that it sold 3m songs during its recent low-price download promotion, which ran for three weeks in August.

What the company doesn't say is how many songs it sold in the three-week period prior to the $0.49-a-track promo kick-off, or in the period since the offer ended.

Almost certainly sales went up during the promo. It's clear from other low-price offers Real and other digital music companies have run in the past - not to mention common sense - that punters prefer lower prices. But when Real's prices went back to $0.99, sales are likely to have fallen. Had sales momentum been maintained, Real would surely have boasted about it. What company wouldn't?

Even so, Real's sales were still a long way from Apple's iTunes Music Store (ITMS), for all its contention that digital music consumers demand greater compatibility. By 1 September, ITMS had notched up 125m downloads in total. On 11 July, it passed the 100m mark. That's 25m songs in the intervening seven-and-a-half weeks, or 3.3m a week.

True, Apple is selling music in the UK, France and Germany as well as the US market in which Real's Rhapsody service operates. But according to Apple, Europe has contributed just 5m songs to iTunes' grand total between June and early September. Assuming all 5m tracks were sold after 11 July - which isn't likely but it gives us figures to work with - that leaves the US July-September total at 20m songs, or 2.7m songs a week.

That's almost 170 per cent higher than Real's average - and that's during Real's low-price promo period, not while prices were the same as Apple's.

These figures somewhat undermines Real's 'demand for compatibility' argument. We're sure buyers do want greater compatibility, as a survey conducted by US market research agency Global Market Insite [sic] on Real's behalf purports to prove. Who, apart from Apple, Microsoft and the music industry pigopolists, doesn't? But Real's numbers show no real evidence of a mass migration to its more compatible service. Consumers may want greater compatibility than ITMS offers, but there's no clear evidence they're pursuing it.

Real's compatibility comes from its Harmony DRM technology, which can remove a Rhapsody-sourced track's Helix DRM system and replace it with data that Apple's FairPlay DRM code can understand. It also translates Helix rules into their Windows Media equivalents.

Harmony is a good thing - DRM is bad enough without limiting users' choice of hardware, software and operating system - but it is nevertheless undermined by Real's insistence that it's offering the technology to promote consumer choice rather than its own financial interest. ®

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