France's Virgin Stores, the country's second largest specialist retail network, has upgraded its music download service.

France's Virgin Stores, the country's second largest specialist retail network, has upgraded its music download service.

The new à la carte download service, re-launched yesterday, offers 300,000 titles from all five majors and a host of indies. The Lagardère Media-owned retailer hopes to offer up to one million titles by year-end.

Tracks are sold in Microsoft's Windows Media format, and cost €0.99 ($1.18) for catalog and €1.19 ($1.42) for new titles.

"We considered setting our prices higher," says Virgin Stores president Jean-Noël Reinhardt, "but... we thought it important to fix a price level on which our future competitors will base their own prices."

Customers have the option of paying for the service through their telephone bills, enabling those who do not have credit cards to participate.

Downloads can be burned or transferred to portable devices at least three times, depending on the transfer conditions imposed by participating labels.

The service is powered by Apach Network, the Paris-based technology firm which French labels body SNEP controversially contracted to deliver its members' promotional titles to radio stations.

Virgin Stores' online initiative enters a busy French download marketplace. Universal Music France's rival site e-compil.fr has already gone live, while Virgin's rival chain Fnac plans to launch its own online music service June 21. Sony Music France CEO Olivier Montfort has said Sony's site will also launch around the same time.

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