Connect, the online music store operated by Sony Corp.'s Sony Network Services (SNS), quietly entered the European market today (July 5). The download service, which was expected to roll out in June,

Connect, the online music store operated by Sony Corp.'s Sony Network Services (SNS), quietly entered the European market today (July 5).

The download service, which was expected to roll out in June, follows the respective European launches of Napster and Apple Computers' iTunes Music Stores.

A Berlin-based spokesman for the service says the sites will go live in a soft launch late today in the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The timing, he says, coincides with the 25th anniversary of Sony's pioneering portable player, the Walkman, on July 1. This will be followed by a full commercial launch on www.connect-europe.com at the end of August.

The spokesman denies that today's soft introduction means the launch day has been delayed. "We're still in our launch time frame as Robert Ashcroft (SNS' European senior VP) said we will do so at the end of June," he says.

The launch will be supported by a full-blown pan-European advertising campaign in September to market not only Connect's local-language digital-music stores but all Sony's compatible Walkman listening devices.

These include the new Network Walkman NW-HD1, which can store up to 13,000 songs and is positioned to compete against Apple Computers' popular iPod players. It goes on the market from next week, kicking off in Japan, followed by the United States and then Europe.

The spokesman declines to comment on how many tracks will be available on Connect's European sites, but says content will be added every day. In May, it signed significant deals with Europe's leading independent label organizations.

Connect plans to enter Switzerland, Austria, the Nordic markets and the Netherlands by end of the year. Spanish and Italian-language sites will open for business early 2005.