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iTunes finally arrives in Europe

update Steve Jobs joins songstress Alicia Keys at the music store's London launch.

update Apple's worst-kept secret--the imminent arrival of iTunes in Europe--was finally confirmed to the public at large today.

Prefaced both by honky-tonk country tunes and old-time crooning piped into a hall the size of Cornwall, the London launch this morning saw the announcement of a catalog of 700,000 songs, plus videos and audio books finally accessible to British, French and German customers.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on hand to preach the iTunes gospel, calling the newly launched online song shop "the best music jukebox in the world."

In the U.S. market for legal music downloads, iTunes has 70 percent market share, and Apple has sold more than 85 million tracks since the service launched in April 2003.

Apple is now hoping to repeat that success in the three European countries to join the iTunes stable. The company will have access to markets that account for as much as 62 percent of music sales in the continent and 23 percent of global music sales.

With a rich new audience made up of teenagers and Old World music lovers, Jobs was bullish about iTunes' prospects. Despite Microsoft and OD2's launching of their own online song shop yesterday, Jobs was talking down rival efforts.

"Who iTunes really competes with is piracy," he said. "Piracy is a really big market, and this is our competitor. To compete with piracy, you have to understand it and offer a better product."

"It's been said iTunes is the best Windows app ever written. If that's not the definition of irony, I don't know what is."
-- Steve Jobs
Apple CEO

And how does Jobs reckon he can lure the illegal downloaders into paying for their pop? By doing a better job, he says--offering "perfect" encoding done by the Apple folk. Music fans other appetites can be sated in other ways; cover art is available for download and printing, and iTunes offers previews of every song, music videos and exclusive tracks.

And, Jobs said, using iTunes means "it's not stealing--it's good karma."

Soul star Alicia Keys, also speaking at the launch, backed up the Apple CEO. "Supporting the artist you're discovering is an important thing," she said.

So what becomes of Apple's 99 cents a song pricing policy, now that the music shop has crossed the Atlantic? Customers in the United Kingdom will pay $1.42 (79 pence) a track, with most albums sold at $14.54.

Music buyers in France and Germany will pay $1.20 a track, with albums averaging $12.07.

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But what do British listeners get for their money on a single track? Playlists can be burned on up to seven CDs, with each individual track able to be burned an unlimited number of times. Tracks can be played on five computers--Mac or PC--which users can change at will, and tracks can be added to an unlimited number of iPods.

Despite the download detente between Microsoft and iTunes, Jobs didn't miss an opportunity to have a dig at the boys at Redmond.

"It's been said iTunes is the best Windows app ever written," he said. "If that's not the definition of irony, I don't know what is."

Sharing music also figures big on the iTunes agenda--gift certificates of between $9.10 and $182 are available, and iTunes users can inflict their personal music choices on one another via Wi-Fi networks.

Those without enthusiasm for the Top 40 are also catered to, with a choice of 5,000 audio books and 12,000 classical pieces. For the young at heart, there are exclusive Disney and Pixar soundtracks.

Despite Jobs' claims of signing deals with the five major labels and "dozens of independents," not everyone is happy with the iTunes repertoire.

The Association of Independent Music announced that it wouldn't be represented in Apple's catalogue. Discussions between the two to include independent music--the likes of million-selling indie darlings Franz Ferdinand, Mr. Scruff and the White Stripes--after talks on licensing terms came to nothing.


Europeans can now buy songs
from the trend-setting service,
but Apple won't repeat its
staggering U.S. success.

And while some major musicians will miss out on the opportunity to profit from the biggest online song shop opening, Jobs and company may be doing the same.

Apple's iTunes is no cash cow--but the iPods of various sizes that fly off the shelf along with the downloads are making a sizable contribution to Apple's bottom line.

U.K. consumers are clamoring for the iPod Mini--featured in Apple's promos for iTunes--but the dainty-drived music players are yet to arrive on these shores.

"We're as anxious as you are to get the iPod mini in the U.K.," said Rob Schoeben, Apple's senior vice president of applications marketing. He added that the company was still selling significant numbers of iPods.

The United Kingdom, France and Germany may have waited a long while for their Apple music bonanza, but for the rest of Europe, there's still a few more months of waiting to come. Apple is currently working on creating an English language "pan-EU" store for the rest of Europe, with an opening scheduled for October. Pricing will be the same, however, Jobs said.

Why has it taken iTunes so long to visit Britain? Schoeben said it took time to make sure the U.K. site comes equipped with all the same features as its U.S. cousin.

"We wanted to make sure (the U.K.) had the same of everything," Schoeben said.

Jo Best of reported from London.