Napster challenges iTunes by opening its own MP3 store

With six million tracks accrued in its library, Napster's new online retail venture boasts the largest selection of MP3s of any retailer to date, taking a bold step by marketing itself to iPod and iPhone users.

Songs will be made available at 99 cents, with albums generally retailing for $9.95. Encoding is promised to be at a bitrate of 256 kbps, which should be music to many listeners' ears already. While Napster To Go subscriptions would be still encapsulated in DRM, all download sales will be in DRM-free MP3.

Napster's move is no doubt in response to Apple's continued success with iTunes, and the overall move away from DRM in general. The site still struggles to find its own niche in an increasingly crowded market -- and one that is increasingly dominated by Apple.

Because Apple does not allow others to use its FairPlay DRM technologies, up until recently only iTunes was compatible with the iPod. However, with MP3 making a resurgence, online music retailers are using the technology as their ticket to get on-board the ubiquitous device.

"Music fans have spoken and it's clear they need the convenience, ease of use and broad interoperability of the DRM-free MP3 format," CEO Chris Gorog said in a statement.

When tracks are purchased via Napster's Web-based store application, the service will automatically sync the tracks to the default iTunes library. That user may still need to use iTunes to sync the music to the player, the company said.

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