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Napster UK touts subscriber numbers

As major music retailers launch rival services

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Napster UK's 750,000 users have downloaded or streamed 55m tracks since the service launched in May 2004, the digital music provider said today.

The announcement comes on the day High Street music retailer HMV opened the virtual doors on its own digital download and subscription service. Virgin Digital went live in the UK this past Friday.

To date, Napster UK's main competitor has been Apple's iTunes Music Store. But with Virgin and now HMV both targeting the same iPod-free Windows Media market in which Napster is a player they are arguably more of a threat than ITMS is.

Hence Napster's release of subscriber figures today, the first time the company has made such statistics public.

The company said 80 per cent of its subscribers are over the age of 25, and half of them have kids. Some three-quarters of them are male.

In a bid to stress the importance of subscriptions, Napster said its subscribers buy more music online than folk who buy one-off downloads do, though since many of them will need to do so to burn tracks to CD or transfer them to digital music players, that's not perhaps surprising. One in five of them no longer buy CDs, apparently.

Indeed, Napster's claim implies that subscribers are using their 'all you can eat' packages more to sample music than to acquire it. That suggests they appreciate the benefits of owning music as well as the advantages of the unlimited download subscription. More to the point, if subscriptions are being used at least in part as a glorified sampling service, that undermines the arguments that subscription-derived downloads should be included in official chart statistics.

Speaking at the Virgin launch last week, Virgin's e-commerce chief, Steve Kincaid, admitted the company has a challenge ahead of it to evangelise the benefits of subscriptions. Virgin, for one, accepts that consumers do not see music subscriptions in the same light as they see subscriptions to, say, digital TV services. ®

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