Apple links up with AOL for iTunes European launch

LONDON - Apple has struck an alliance with AOL to launch its iTunes digital music download service across Europe, with tracks retailing for 79p.

AOL will promote the iTunes store to its European users and provide a channel for user registration. Links to iTunes artists, albums and songs will appear throughout the AOL Music channel.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was in London today for the launch of iTunes, which debuted in the UK, France and Germany offering songs for 79p and albums for £7.99.

"The number one online music store in the world has finally come to the UK, France and Germany. With a huge catalogue of over 700,000 songs, breakthrough prices of just 79p per song and seamless integration with Apple's wildly popular iPod, we think this is the digital music store that Europe has been waiting for," said Jobs.

The iTunes Music Store in the UK will feature over 700,000 songs from all five music majors, including exclusive tracks from Ash, The Beastie Boys, The Cure, The Darkness, PJ Harvey, Snow Patrol and Mano Solo.

The service's debut comes just weeks after European digital download services were unveiled by Napster and Sony Connect, a joint venture between the electronics giant and McDonald's.

However, the Association of Independent Music has confirmed that Apple has failed to license music Europe's independent labels.

It is estimated that independent labels account for 25% of music retail sales in the UK, and around 22% in Europe. It means that at launch iTunes will be without the likes of Travis, Basement Jaxx, Franz Ferdinand, Dizzee Rascal, So Solid Crew, The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Pixies who are all represented by indie labels.

Separately, Coca-Cola this week revealed that its service has sold 500,000 downloads in the first six months of operation.

Competition in the market has become fierce in recent months. Charities Oxfam and War Child are offering music downloads, and HMV, Virgin and MSN are all relaunching their existing services.

In the battle to win consumers, distribution will become a key factor. Napster, a unit of US media company Roxio, this week announced a partnership with NTL to offer subscriptions to the UK cable group's 1m broadband customers.

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