Online music download store, 7digital, says it has ignited a price war with iTunes and its other competitors. Not only is 7digital now offering cheaper music, it's also serving it up DRM-free and at high bitrates.

The 320kbps DRM-free tracks will work on any music player or phone, including Apple's iPod and iPhone, and are higher quality than those from most other stores on the web. DRM-free iTunes Plus tracks are currently available in AAC format at 256kbps, but they are not compatible with many music players due to the MPEG-4 codec they use.

Cheap music downloads

"Static pricing and inferior quality formats being offered by certain online retailers is limiting consumer uptake of digital downloading," says Ben Drury, CEO at 7digital.com. "We've decided enough is enough - we are now offering MP3 album downloads from £5 giving an equivalent track price as low as 10p each."

7digital.com has a catalogue of music 3.5 million tracks strong, with approximately 70 per cent of artist material available in the MP3 format at up to 320kbps quality. The company says the high bit-rate makes downloads indistinguishable from CD quality.

Drury thinks that, as physical format sales continue to decline, it's vital that we're all given a "fair digital offer", both in terms of quality and format. This is, he says, why 7digital is issuing the challenge to other retailers to match its new price structure.

iTunes in price war?

"In the run up to Christmas, when many will get new MP3 players from Apple, Samsung, Sony and others, it's important consumers realise that they have choice when it comes to buying downloads. MP3 is the only truly universal digital format for music and we are striving hard to make our entire catalogue available as MP3," Drury said.

"The big issue now is making downloads available in a consumer-friendly, high-quality format at a reasonable price. iTunes has long been the market leader, but its reluctance to offer any kind of flexible pricing or formats other than AAC, which is far from interoperable, has left many consumers unconvinced by legal digital downloads.

"Our own sales show that, given the choice, consumers overwhelmingly choose MP3 downloads, which don't have DRM restrictions. Earlier in the year MP3s were outselling WMA and AAC by almost four to one."

Recent additions to the MP3 catalogue include Kylie, Coldplay, Moby, Radiohead and Pink Floyd.