The Times yesterday launched a one-sided tirade against Apple, accusing the company of undermining Band Aid charity single/reprise, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'.

The report's initial premise is that selling the single would "damage the company's dominance of the download market". Quite how this will be the case isn't addressed. Author, Adam Sherwin, describes the track as costing £1.49 on other sites, adding that they "have agreed to donate their profits to relief efforts in Africa".

Apple sells its tracks for 79p, and allegedly "refused to raise its price for the charity song". Despite Apple's refusal to virtually stock the track, the single has already hit number five in the digital download chart.

Negotiations continue
Despite raising The Times' ire, Apple's decision may not yet be set in stone. A senior source at record company Universal Music told Macworld last night: "We'd certainly like to reach an agreement with Apple, and I imagine Apple feels the same way." Negotiations continue, he explained.

Universal is making the track available for distribution through online music services at a fixed price: £1.49. The physical single retails for £3.99 in high street record shops. "It contains both the new and the original BandAid single", my source confirmed. A digital version of the single with both tracks costs £1.99.

The project is a major initiative - Universal has made a significant investment in the project. One million copies of the single will be available in UK shops when it is released on Monday.

Band Aid sources and Universal have confessed to being "disappointed" that Apple won't be stocking the track. However, multiple competing online music services will carry it online, including all the OD2-backed services, Napster and an official site,

The Universal source discussed the different prices for online and physical copies of the single. "We anticipate the physical product may make more money for the charity, despite higher manufacturing costs."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't
The BBC reports that over 10,000 people have downloaded the single so far.

The project has attracted significant support, with the UK government agreeing to refund VAT paid on sales of the single and accompanying DVD, and HMV, Virgin Megastores and Woolworths all agreeing to donate their share of the proceeds to charity.

The Times report also refers to the recent Consumer's Association accusation that claimed Apple is overcharging UK customers with its 79p per track price structure.

Napster charges 99 pence per track, while the OD2-backed services charge an average 80 pence per download. Sony Connect matches Apple's 79 pence per song charge.

The Times claims Apple to be undercutting its competitors, "Apple is able to absorb reduced profit margins on individual downloads because the site drives iPod sales", says The Times.

In a sense, then, Apple is damned for not raising prices to accommodate Universal Music's £1.49 charge for the Band Aid single - but is also castigated (within the same piece) for insisting on retaining its 79p target.

The reporter insists that Apple's decision to refuse to stock the track could reduce revenues raised through digital sales by 70 per cent. This speculative figure seems inspired by Apple's 70 per cent market share.

Error of fact
"Millions of iPod owners will not be able to play the track over the Christmas period," Sherwin complains. This is not the case. Although the single may not be available on iTunes Music Store this season, the potential collectors item of tomorrow is expected to be made widely available through brick-and-mortar retail stores. And if you live too far from a record shop, there is always the option to buy 'Do They Know It's Christmas' online from Amazon.

Sherwin's argument that "millions of iPod users will be unable to play the track" is, however, simply not true. As any iPod user could tell Sherwin, Apple's iTunes software is perfectly capable of extracting the music from a CD (the TImes reporter may be interested to know that this practice is called, "ripping" a CD). This means that any iPod user who cares to visit a record shop or buy the song on Amazon can easily transfer the songs to their iPod. Mac and iPod users can still help feed the world.

A little history
The original 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' single raised £8 million, with Live Aid rasing £80 million in year one. In the end the project raised £110 million - the equivalent of Africa's weekly debt repayments. Over a quarter of a million pounds are still contributed to good causes each year.

Twenty years on, the new Band Aid saw contributions from Bob Geldof, Joss Stone, Jamelia, Coldplay, Keane, Travis and many, many more. Music stars young and old got together on a Sunday to record the track. Last week, the video of the track made its debut on UK TV, with an estimated third of the population (20 million) watching the broadcast.

The public is clearly keen to see something positive take place. Universal Music eLabs vice president, Barney Wragg, told the Times that most online music retailers faced a "real logistical challenge" getting the track online, "but everyone did their best".

Apple declined to comment on its position.