Jersey-based discount online retailer Play.com has become the latest player to step into the online music store ring with the launch today of PlayDigital.

The new service offers DRM-free MP3 file songs encoded at a bit-rate of 320kbps for tracks from the EMI stable and 192kbps for independent label tracks. Unlike songs downloaded from iTunes each PlayDigital track can be used on MP3 players other than an iPod.

Cheaper than iTunes

Costs start at 65 pence for a Top 100 track and £6.99 for a Top 100 album – that's a saving of 14 pence and a £1 on iTunes’ respective prices. Songs from outside the Top 100 will cost 70 pence, while albums outside the Top 100 will vary. Play told us that they will be monitoring the price of albums on their competitors’ sites and adjusting their price accordingly to remain cheaper.

Play hopes its new service will eventually challenge the dominance of iTunes, although with EMI being the only major label on board at present, Play’s executives have clearly got their work cut out getting the other ‘big four’ members – Sony-BMG, Universal and Warner – to sign up to their DRM-free service.

More credible than Qtrax

Still, at least Play has the credibility and the reputation so sadly lacking in the Qtrax consortium, who are trying to pull off a similar trick. If the three 'missing' major labels see EMI doing okay, it surely won’t take long for them to be persuaded to join the party. In the meantime, PlayDigital is already claiming a launch catalogue of “millions".

So will it catch on? Well, given that Play.com is recognisably British company with a customer base that already extends to seven million people that has a solid reputation for consistently being cheaper than its competitors, we’re happy to predict that the new service will indeed prove exceptionally popular in the UK.

Perhaps most crucially to PlayDigital's future success is that, by launching today, the new service has stolen a huge march on potential rivals like Amazon.com, who are instead concentrating on their US operations, placing their non-core UK market on the back-burner.