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Tower stacking up downloads

Starting Tuesday, retailer will offer downloads priced at 99 cents a track, compatible with most players except iPod.

Music retailer Tower Records is preparing to take the shrink-wrap off its digital download store on Tuesday, when goes live with a comprehensive service powered by Puretracks.

Tower will market the digital alternative across all media in tandem with the chain's retail business, which comprises 89 stores in the United States.

Initially the store will offer a catalog of 1.2 million tracks priced at 99 cents each or $9.99 for an entire album. Artist information and other related material is provided by Muze.

Tower Records chief marketing officer Russ Eisenman said the digital store fit perfectly with Tower's history of offering music in all formats that prevailed throughout its 45-year history.

All of the music is in Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format, encoded at a higher bit rate than most other online stores to provide better audio fidelity.

"Having the highest-quality sound is as important to us as it is to our customers," Tower Records business development executive Jason Munyon said. The ability to meet that requirement was one of the main reasons the company partnered with Puretracks, he added.

This format can be burned to disc and played on many existing CD players, he noted. It also can be moved to most digital music players, with the exception of Apple's iPod. No special software is needed to make a purchase, and the songs can be downloaded to any location on the computer.

The depth of catalog will be another difference between Tower Records Digital and its competition, Munyon said.

"There's a gigantic gap in the market," he said. "Everyone's going for the big hit titles and the best-known names and not focusing on the true music fan consumers. We have a broad and deep catalog in all genres--we're known for this, and we're experts at it."

Eisenberg and Munyon said Tower will leverage its long-standing relationships with labels and vendors to negotiate special bundles, as well as pushing for more music from outside the mainstream to be digitized and made available for download. This is something else Tower can do differently from its competition, they added.

An additional mandate for Tower Records Digital, Munyon said, was that it be able to handle promotional bundles. Besides pricing discounts, the store will be offering special packages that combine CD and download purchases.