Real cites success of song sale; signs university deals

RealNetworks said on Tuesday that it has sold more than a million songs at its online music store since slashing prices last week as part of a limited-time sale aimed at growing the user base of its new digital media software.

The Seattle, Washington, company began selling music downloads at US$0.49 per song, or US$4.99 for most albums last Tuesday, offering the tunes at nearly half what other online music providers are currently charging.

The fire sale is meant to fuel demand for the company's RealPlayer 10.5 digital media playback software and increase subscribers to Real's Rhapsody service. The move is also being seen as an attempt to take a bite out of rival digital music provider Apple Computer, which has so far lead the industry with its iTunes online store.

Real and Apple came to loggerheads shortly after RealPlayer 10.5 was introduced in beta last month because the new software includes a technology, called Harmony, that allows songs downloaded from Real's music store to play on Apple's iPod devices. Apple has not licensed to third-parties the technology which enables songs to play on the iPod.

While the dispute between the two companies continues to simmer, Real is claiming booming sales at its online store. The company said it has sold one million songs in the last week, although it did not reveal how many songs it sold from the online store on average before the sale. Representatives for the company in the U.K. were not immediately available to comment Tuesday.

Last month, Apple said that it had sold over 100 million songs from its iTunes music store since launching in April 2003. Last November, the Cupertino, California, company claimed to have sold 1.5 million songs in a week, over the same period that the recently relaunched Napster service sold 300,000 downloads.

Napster, owned by Roxio, has been taking a slightly different tack with its service by offering it to universities at discounted rates in an effort to convert students into digital music purchasers. Napster recently signed up a handful of universities; its strategy has not gone unnoticed by Real.

On Tuesday, Real also announced two similar deals for its Rhapsody Internet jukebox service. Students at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Minnesota will be offered Rhapsody at "deeply discounted" rates at the start of their upcoming school terms, Real said.

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