Apple's iTunes sales hit 50 million

The company says it has sold 50 million songs through its iTunes Music Store, with about 2.5 million songs being downloaded each week.

Apple Computer said Monday that it has sold 50 million songs through its iTunes Music Store, with about 2.5 million songs being downloaded each week.

Apple said the sales figure excludes the number of songs downloaded through a promotion with Pepsi, in which 100 million songs are being given away. It has been reported that the specially marked Pepsi bottles that contain iTunes codes have been slow to reach store shelves in some areas. Customers have also found a way to determine which bottles are winners, by tilting the bottles at a particular angle.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced a goal of distributing 100 million songs by April--including those given away in the Pepsi promotion--when the company expanded the iTunes store in October to work with Windows-based computers. Apple reiterated the goal in December, when it announced that it had sold 25 million songs by that point.

In its announcement Monday, Apple did note that iTunes users are now downloading 2.5 million songs per week, which means that the company is now selling songs at a rate of 130 million per year.

"With over 50 million songs already downloaded and an additional 2.5 million songs being downloaded every week, it's increasingly difficult to imagine others ever catching up with iTunes," Jobs said in a statement.

In an interview Monday, Apple Vice President Rob Schoeben focused on the fact that Apple continues to hold a substantial lead in the music download market, despite the increased competition.

"People were predicting we were going to be in a horse race against all these scary competitors," Schoeben said. "This doesn't feel like a horse race. From our perspective, we are the dominant leader in that market."

Apple also noted that the rate of sales is increasing, now at about 2.5 million songs per week, up from a rate of 1.5 million downloads per week in December. The company was selling about 500,000 songs per week in September, when the service was still Mac-only.

As for the goal, Schoeben said it was hard for Apple to know the pace at which the market would develop and that the company has had to learn through experience about how quickly (and how many) songs would be redeemed through a promotion like the one with Pepsi. He declined to say how many songs have been redeemed from the promotion.

Despite being the leader in online music stores, Apple does face increasing competition from existing stores such as Roxio's Napster and MusicMatch, as well as a host of others looking to join the fray, including Microsoft and Virgin.

Meanwhile, Roxio said Monday that strong demand for Napster was leading the company to raise its sales forecast. The company said it now expects revenue for its Napster division to increase to about $5.5 million for the three months ending March 31. That compares with $3.6 million in the preceding quarter.

In February, Roxio said it had sold 5 million downloads, a fraction of Apple's tally.

Schoeben noted that Napster is finding a profitable niche in selling music subscriptions but that it's not grabbing a significant share of the download market.

"Subscriptions are a place they can hide and get a comfortable niche," he said. "Their ability to sell music has not borne out."

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