At an exclusive event in London, TechRadar spoke to the CEO of 7digital Music about its expanding business, and its announcement that it is the first service in Europe to offer 100 per cent MP3 files from all four of the major music labels. This includes Sony BMG, which signed up to the service today.
Referring to the company's rich catalogue of four million songs, Ben Drury, CEO of 7digital.com said that the decision to go with MP3 was because it was the easiest and most accessible format for digital downloads, mainly because it is DRM-free.
"I think the standard a la carte music download DRM is dead," said Drury about the controversial rights management system.
"Eighty per cent of our customer queries have been about DRM, and it causes a lot of grief with users. We're glad to see the back of it."
Opening up 7digital
It's not just the music side of things where the company has 'opened up' either, with the announcement that 7digital is to open up its API (Application Programming Interface) to third-party software creators, much like what Apple did with the App store.
This could eventually lead to apps like a Pandora-style internet radio device and other widgets.
Third-party developers will get up to 10 per cent commission on the software they develop under 7digital's banner.
And you don't need a computer programming degree to get into the action either, with a new Partner Program that allows anyone to feature music on their website or blog. This can all be done by cutting and pasting some code.
Choice is good
The 7digital announcement comes just before the music download market becomes even more crowded. With the likes of MySpace announcing a soon-to-be launched music service – albeit with a focus on streaming – and Amazon looking to dominate music downloads; Drury is surprisingly upbeat about the competition.
"With MySpace linking up with Amazon and Amazon releasing its own service, I think it will open up the MP3 market," says Drury.
"It will mean that people will see that there is more to offer than just the 800 pound gorilla that is Apple iTunes."
He even goes on to say how being a smaller site has benefited them in a number of ways.
"In terms of brand power compared to the big guys, we are nowhere. But, how did we manage to get the first 100 per cent MP3 music market? Because we are nimble."
He continues: "The sole reason we got Warner on board back in March was that we helped them with the bundle model [offering two types of file format] and the company could see its sales in real time."
Another way the company is competing with the 'big guys' is on the price-point – with the biggest change being in album prices, says Drury: "A big shift in the last six months is that album prices have changed significantly.
Digital album growth is stronger this year than digital single sales. Mostly because prices have been lowered."
This is shown on the site at the moment, with 7digital offering albums for as low as £2.
Combating illegal downloads
Two pounds, however, is still not free. But when it comes to the bigger problem of illegal downloads, Drury doesn't think you can win over consumers by threatening them, but by offering unmatched service.
"The best way to combat [illegal downloads] is on a market level – make your service so good that people don't want to go and download illegally.
"Adding things like online backup, recommendations, and things like MP3 file formats, goes a long way to achieving this."