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Study: Sales of portable music rocking steady

MP3 players may not be as hot as DVD players for the holiday season, but Jupiter Research says their shipments have almost doubled this year and will continue to grow.

The demand for MP3 players in the United States is poised to grow at a steady rate of 50 percent a year through 2006, signaling better times for the digital music market, according to Jupiter Research.

Shipments of MP3 players should hit 3.5 million in 2003, almost double 2002 figures, Jupiter said in a report it issued Tuesday. It also said more than 26 million MP3 players will be in use by 2006. Starting in 2004, the demand for players with hard drives will surpass that of players with flash memory.

New music players and download services such as Apple's iPod and its iTunes store have "energized the music industry," Jupiter said.

The market researcher said a few more stores and services may soon add their names to a list that includes America Online, Musicmatch, Napster and RealNetworks. While Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and will miss the winter shopping season, computer makers Dell and Gateway have already launched MP3 players, according to the report.

"MP3 players are not quite this season's DVD player, but portable music players, combined with online music stores and services, will be a strong holiday-shopping combination," David Card, Jupiter's research director, said in a statement.