Online music sales surging in Japan

The sale of online music for mobile phones in Japan was up 71 percent in the first quarter of this year, an industry group said.

The growing popularity of PC and mobile phone music download services propelled Japan's online music market to new heights in the first three months of this year, according to data released Monday by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ).

The RIAJ's 42 member record companies served up 89 million downloads in the first quarter, up 71 percent on the same period a year earlier, the organization said. Those downloads were worth YEN 12.2 billion (AU$141.7 million), up 83 percent on the first quarter of 2005. Both figures are all-time records.

Japan's online download market has long been dominated by cell phones although the importance of the PC download market is slowly increasing.

First quarter PC downloads of 5.9 million accounted for 6.7 percent of all downloads compared to 2.1 percent a year earlier. In monetary terms PC downloads represented 10 percent of the market in the first quarter against 4.7 percent a year earlier, said the RIAJ.

The PC download slice of the market is growing thanks to the popularity of digital music players and the launch of several new online download services including Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, which opened in Japan in August 2005.

Faced with this growing competition, cellular carriers are trying to increase the attractiveness of using a telephone handset as a music player. Last week KDDI said it would soon begin selling the first handset in Japan to bear the "Walkman" brand and earlier in the month DoCoMo inked a deal with Microsoft so that its phones could playback songs encoded with Microsoft's DRM (digital rights management).