RealNetworks is cutting download prices from $.99 to $.49 at its RealPlayer Music Store. The promotion, which starts today (Aug. 17) and runs for a limited time, marks the lowest price point ever from

RealNetworks is cutting download prices from $.99 to $.49 at its RealPlayer Music Store. The promotion, which starts today (Aug. 17) and runs for a limited time, marks the lowest price point ever from a major download store. Most others, such as Apple's iTunes and Napster, set their download prices at $.99.

Real's album downloads will also be sale-priced, at about $4.99 for "a number of weeks," says chief strategic officer Richard Wolpert.

The move highlights the rollout of "Harmony," the technology that makes tracks from the RealPlayer Music Store compatible with Apple Computer's iPod and over 100 other portable music players. Previously, the Real download store was not compatible with either the iPod or Windows Media-compatible devices due to competing DRM standards from Apple and Microsoft. Harmony technology is embedded in the updated RealPlayer 10.5 music management software, which is now available for free download.

In July, Apple voiced its opposition to Harmony, dubbing RealNetworks' actions "hacker tactics."

The price-slashing announcement comes on the heels of another Real promotion that offers free access to its subscription music service, Rhapsody, through Aug. 29. Both promotions are being supported by Real's national print, radio and online advertising campaign, dubbed "Freedom of Choice."

Real also launched the www.freedomofchoice.org Web site, a community destination where consumers can learn about compatibility issues in today's digital music marketplace.

Wolpert says the current state of interoperability among stores and devices would ultimately serve as a hindrance for both consumers and the overall growth of the digital-music industry.

Josh Bernoff, analyst with Forrester Research, notes that Harmony technology in tandem with the reduced $.49 download price point is a formidable customer acquisition tool for new digital-music users.

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