Telecommunications giant Telstra's internet service provider BigPond has become the first Australian online music store to offer download tracks in DRM-free MP3 format. It has struck deals with all the four Australian-based majors plus leading Australian indies and distributors including MGM, Inertia, Liberation, IODA, and AmpHead.

BigPond estimates this will increase the number of music tracks it has on offer from 200,000 to one million by Jan. 2009. It is charging $1.69 Australian ($1.48) per MP3 track -- the same as Apple's iTunes store. BigPond’s broadband subscribers pay $1.49 ($1.30) per MP3.

BigPond, which is a distant second in the download market behind iTunes, is marketing its new service as more convenient than Apple's download store. It stresses how the MP3 format is compatible with all standard music player software, including Windows Media Player, iTunes and RealPlayer and can be played on all types of iPod.

In the results of the company's Australian Music Consumption Survey, released Aug. 13, it claims 70% of Australians do not purchase music online because they find the number of devices, platforms and systems confusing.

"Until now many people found it complex to download music legally, and ended up frustrated when they discovered their music was locked onto a single device or was impossible to transfer to the player of their choice," says BigPond managing director Justin Milne.

"The future of the music industry relies on the growth in legitimate digital music sales," said Warner Music Australia president and chief executive Ed St John in a statement. "And we can only have a healthy digital music industry when consumers have the opportunity to purchase music anywhere, any time and with the capacity to load it onto any device they choose. We welcome this latest initiative from BigPond and applaud their commitment to operating a legitimate music download service."

Sony BMG Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand chairman and CEO Denis Handlin calls it "a major step in further building strong retail download services in Australia."

According to Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) figures for 2007, published in June, digital track sales increased in both value and units by 60% with sales of $18.7 million Australian ($16.37 million) on 17.6 million digital tracks compared to 2006. ARIA estimates that digital sales made up 10% of all music sales in 2007.

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