Best Buy to launch Apple iTunes competitor

Best Buy has teamed with SanDisk and RealNetworks to launch a competitor to iTunes.

Best Buy, in cooperation with SanDisk and RealNetworks, is the latest company to join the growing list of competitors to Apple Computer's iTunes music service.

Best Buy Thursday unveiled a online music service, called Best Buy Digital Music Store, that allows customers to find, manage and purchase music online. It is powered by RealNetworks' Rhapsody 4.0 music service and lets users purchase and permanently download songs and albums, as well as subscribe monthly to listen to an unlimited number of songs, the company said.

As part of the offering, Best Buy also will carry and promote SanDisk Sana e200R Rhapsody MP3 players, which have been optimized to work with its new music service. Both the players and the service will be available starting Oct. 15, the company said.

Jennifer Schaidler, vice president of music for Best Buy, said the company is differentiating its service from Rhapsody by offering exclusive artist content and tailoring that to what Best Buy customers are purchasing.

"Look at it as Rhapsody 4.0 plus," she said. "You get all the stuff that's there [on Rhapsody], plus more exclusive content."

Selling CDs and MP3 players in its stores and online is already a successful part of Best Buy's business, so offering a music service was a logical next step for the company, Schaidler said. "Customers expect Best Buy to provide them with quality entertainment in an easy way," she said.

Songs on the Best Buy Digital Music Store will cost US$0.99, with monthly subscriptions that allow users to play an unlimited number of songs for US$14.99 a month

The news comes on the heels of the formal unveiling last week of the availability and pricing for Microsoft's forthcoming Zune Player and Zune Marketplace service. Microsoft will make the digital media players and service available in the U.S. on Nov. 14.

Like Best Buy's new service, songs on the Zune Marketplace will cost about US$0.99 each, though the charges will be according to a points system (i.e., 79 points a song) that will allow users to purchase items on other Microsoft properties, such as Xbox Live. Zune Marketplace's unlimited monthly subscription also costs US$14.99 a month. Songs on Apple's iTunes service cost US$0.99, but there is no monthly subscription available.

Pricing for the SanDisk music player that works with the new Best Buy service is higher than that of comparable iPod or Zune devices, however. The Zune digital media player, which has 30G bytes of storage, will cost US$249.99, the same as 30G-byte video iPods already available from Apple. SanDisk Sana e200r MP3 players come in two models -- a 2G byte model for US$139.99 and an 8G byte model for US$249.99. However, while the Zune player and the SanDisk Sana players include an FM radio tuner in addition to the ability to play digital music, videos and photos, the iPod has only the latter features.

To promote its new service, Best Buy will launch with an exclusive track from recording artist Diddy from his new CD, "Press Play." The CD will be on sale Oct. 17.

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