British market-leading music and entertainment retailer HMV Group has unveiled plans to launch a social-networking site.

The online service will form part of the firm's digital overhaul in the United Kingdom, which is expected to start from this September.

Although no details are yet available, the site is scheduled to be unveiled towards the end of this year.

The move to operate a social-networking service is an attempt to reintroduce the days when music fans used to meet at brick-and-mortar music stores to socialize and exchange information on their favorite acts and concerts.

"With the advent of the Internet, that has been replaced by social-networking services," comments Gideon Lask, HMV U.K.'s e-commerce director, in a statement. "We want to get back to all that with our stores by launching a (social-networking) site with a music and film focus at the back end of this year."

He said the site will feature original content, carrying-over from HMV's long-established relationship with record companies, film production companies and games developers. "We want to leverage that," he added.

And some of the stores will include socializing hubs where people can access HMV's Web sites to download music, play games and access the new social-networking service.

In other news, the retailer has confirmed it will sell DRM-free downloadable music from September.

HMV has signed a letter of intent with EMI Music, which will supply its DRM-free catalog once an agreement is reached. Several independent labels will also make their catalogs available in the MP3 format.

"That will give us at least 1 million DRM-free tracks in September and for the first time, we will have music that can be played on (digital) players other than the iPod," Lask added.

Towards that end, the company is going to incorporate its dedicated digital download site (www.hmvdigital.com) into its main physical CD and DVD mail-order site (www.hmv.co.uk).

HMV confirmed its digital initiatives on what was an otherwise dour day for the merchant, which separately announced a full-year financial slump.

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