French Operator Follows Apple on Mobile Music Pricing

A French mobile phone operator will cut the price of its music downloads in half next month, matching that of Apple Computer’s iTunes Store.

Starting Nov. 7, Societe Francaise du Radiotelephone (SFR) will charge 0.99 euros (US$1.25) per track, compared to 1.99 euros today. Additional charges apply if the track is downloaded over the air to a mobile phone, rather than over a fixed Internet connection to a PC.

It’s no coincidence that the new price matches that of Apple’s iTunes Store in Europe, said SFR spokeswoman Caroline Mir.

Apple’s "is the reference price today," she said. "This is the first time that this price has been offered on a mobile service," she added.

SFR even plans to undercut Apple’s price, offering complete albums for 9.90 euros, compared to Apple’s price of 9.99, or a pack of up to 20 downloads a month for 14.90 euros, bringing the price per track down to 0.75. The tracks, in AAC+ format, will play on third-generation (3G) mobiles or on PCs, Mir said. A digital rights management copy-prevention system allows buyers to burn the tracks to CD a maximum of five times.

Rival network operator Orange charges 2 euros per track, plus airtime, for its music download service in France.

SFR’s subscribers currently download 300,000 music tracks per month, Mir said. The company hopes the lower price will push music downloads to 1 million tracks a month next year, helped by growth in the adoption and deployment of 3G service.

The company had 1.5 million 3G subscribers at the end of August, and hopes to have 2.5 million by the end of the year, Mir said.

Advances in technology could help boost demand for mobile music services, by cutting the cost of the airtime used to download the track.

SFR charges 0.10 euros per minute for access to the music download service, but the time it takes to download a track varies with the mobile phone technology used. With General Packet Radio Service, it can take several minutes to download a track, to the point where the airtime charges could exceed the cost of the music. 3G brings that down to around 1.5 minutes to download a track, Mir said, while 3G+, SFR’s name for the high-speed downlink packet access technology used in its latest mobile phones, will cut the time taken to download a music track to about 20 seconds.

-Peter Sayer, IDG News Service (Paris Bureau)

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