Originally created 05/06/04

Sony online music service debut sets up brawl with Apple

LOS ANGELES -- Sony Corp. entered the burgeoning digital music market Tuesday, launching an online music download service that the electronics and media conglomerate is banking will also generate sales for its line of portable audio players.

The service, dubbed Sony Connect, offers more than 500,000 tracks from artists on major and independent labels. Like Napster 2.0 and the iTunes Music Store from Apple Computer Inc., Sony Connect sells individual tracks starting at 99 cents and full album downloads beginning at $9.99.

Sony's entry into the online music market comes more than a year since the launch of iTunes and months behind about a dozen other pay music sites and subscription services. Like Apple, which used its online music sales as way to drive sales of its iPod digital players, Sony hopes to turn a profit for its own array of audio players.

But doing so will depend largely on whether Sony can draw music fans who have not already invested in iPods or other music players - which cannot play song files in Sony's ATRAC3 format - to buy its own brand of audio devices.

"They're behind the curve already and they have to play catch-up on two fronts, on selling their audio players and getting people to use their music service," said Michael Goodman, senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston. "There's roughly three to four million people that have already placed that bet."

Officials at Santa Monica-based Sony Connect Inc., which runs the service, say the online market is still developing and there is room for Sony to scoop up market share.

"Apple did an excellent job in cultivating this new market," said spokesman Mack Araki. "We believe we can expand the market to a much broader audience with a broader line of devices and an easy to use service."

Apple has about 30 percent share of the overall portable digital music player market, which includes players that play protected content sold by the online services and players that can only play MP3s or other unsecured song files, Goodman said.

Apple's share of portable players that can play legally purchased music files is between 80 percent and 90 percent, he said.

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