Competitors are ratcheting up the pressure on Apple's dominant iTunes music store, with a blizzard of new online retailers being launched with support from the record industry.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail company, said yesterday that it would undercut iTunes with sales of music downloads that can be played on an unlimited number of digital players. And the music channel MTV merged its Urge music store with RealNetworks' Rhapsody download service to try to mount a more serious challenge iTunes.
In addition, two of the biggest record labels, Universal and SonyBMG, are among the backers of Gbox, a new service aimed at encouraging friends to buy each other MP3s as gifts, which went live yesterday.
Apple's iTunes controls more than three-quarters of the market for music downloads, mainly because of its easy compatibility with the company's ubiquitous music player, the iPod. Record labels, though, have been trying hard to stimulate competition.
" We're committed to exploring new ways to expand the availability of our artists' music online, while offering consumers the most choice in how and where they purchase and enjoy our music," said Doug Morris, chief executive of Universal Music.
Gbox users - initially in the US - will be able to post wishlists on their blogs, and friends can buy them the songs they request.
Wal-Mart will sell songs free of copyright protection software for 94 cents, undercutting iTunes, which sells them in that format for $1.29. Apple sells songs that can only be played on iPods for 99 cents.
Urge and Rhapsody have separately made little dent in Apple's dominance of digital downloading, but MTV Networks and RealNetworks said yesterday that they would merge their services in a joint venture headed by Urge general manager Michael Bloom and majority-owned by RealNetworks.