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Napster: We Think We’re Turning Japanese

Former online music bad-boy Napster today launched a Japanese version of its music subcription and download service, hoping to tap into one of the world’s largest music markets and give Apple’s iTunes a little dose of friendly competition. At launch the Japanese version of Napster is set to offer 1.5 million Japanese and international tracks.

"Napster is very pleased to bring the first music subscription service to Japan’s vibrant music and technology market," said Chris Gorog, Napster’s chairman and CEO. "Our joint venture with Tower Records Japan, the nation’s largest and most successful music retailer, has enabled us to deliver a product with a deep focus on local tastes and programming that also happens to offer the largest digital music catalog available in the market."

Napster Japan is offering two subscription offerings, a basic plan which enables users to download as much music as they like to three PCs for ¥1,280, and a Napster to Go service which adds up to three portable devices to the mix for ¥1,980. Napster will also let users purchase tracks a la carte for ¥150 apiece for international tracks, and ¥200 for Japanese tracks; some tracks are prices as high as ¥300. Right now, only about 10 percent of the tracks on Napster Japan are from Japanese artists, but that proportion is expected to shift as the service gains momentum. Songs purchased from Napster (or downloaded via a subscription) can play on a wide vareity of PlaysForSure-compatible devices, but not (of course) on Apple’s iPod music players.

Apple’s iTunes currently dominates the Japanese music download market after debuting last year. Napster originally planned to enter the Japanese market in the first quarter of 2006, but held off to cement its partnership with Tower Records, which will promote the Napster service in its stores. (In fact, Tower Records Japan owns more than half of Napster Japan.) Napster hopes to appeal to Japanese consumers by offering an all-you-can-handle subscription plan. iTunes does not (currently) offer music subscription services in any market.

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