iTunes starts the week amid controversy once again - with Europe's independent labels accusing Apple of dragging its feet in making their songs available online.

The service is likely losing credibility among UK indie music fans in a market where such market accounts for 25 per cent of sales. The absence roster includes leading acts such as the Mercury prize-winning Franz Ferdinand and this week's number one chart single 'Call on Me' by Eric Prydz. Other acts, notable by their unavailability, include: Feeder, Moloko, Coldcut, The Kills, Roots Manuva, Billy Bragg, Ian Dury and The Herbaliser.

The delay appears bureaucratic in nature, successful labels Domino and Ninja Tune signed deals with Apple over a month ago, yet their music isn't yet available through the store.

Apple missing a beat

Ninja Tune managing director Peter Quicke complained: "Our catalogue has been up on Apple's servers for ten months (in the US), we have had a signed contract with iTunes Europe for nearly two months, so it seems extraordinarily inefficient of Apple not to be able to offer our catalogue for sale in Europe. We are getting strong sales on the other services our tracks are available on."

Apple launched its European service this year - but did so with little indie label music. Industry group the Association of Independent Music (AIM) had tried to negotiate a 'one-size-fits-all' deal that benefited its members, after Apple originally offered a less desirable deal to labels in the sector.

Representatives from leading independent labels, Beggars, Sanctuary and V2 brokered a deal, which Apple then said it would offer the independents. Similar deals have also been reached with Apple's competing digital music distribution services, OD2, Sony and the now-public Napster.

While other services now offer wide indie label content, Apple does not yet - despite deals being signed weeks ago. "Labels have experienced no such licensing difficulties with competing services such as Napster and Sony Connect", an AIM spokesman confirmed.

Apple's lack of focus in this could damage its service, driving music fans to use other services. Speaking earlier this month, Napster's UK-based vice president of business development Leanne Sharman told Macworld UK: "The UK market is 100 per cent different from all the other markets, all the markets have differences. Our service is no good if we don't have UK content and up-to-date programmes specific to the market, that's why we hired Jeff Smith, formerly of Radio One and Capital, as he really understands the UK market."

Under-resourced, or under-appreciative?

Some labels question Apple's resources to manage its business in this sector. Chrysalis Music Division CEO Jeremy Lascelles said: "I find Apple's approach and attitude to the independents perplexing. By its own admission it is seriously under-resourced in terms of the relatively simple task of finalizing the paperwork (all the terms of which are already agreed) with a whole host of independent labels, but they don't appear willing to create those resources."

One of the UK's most important independent labels, Chrysalis has been chasing Apple for the paperwork it needs to get its tracks into Apple's claimed "leading" service. Despite frequent requests, the company has not received the paperwork. Other services have not been so obtuse, label heads observed.

Demand, but no supply

Ministry of Sound managing director Lohan Presencer expressed his frustration: "It's immensely frustrating that we are unable to gain access to this exciting new marketplace, especially as we suspect that demand from iTunes customers for our releases would be considerable."

Lascelles complained of Apple seemingly, "applying no urgency" to fill the major gaps in the music repertoire it offers at present.

Franz Ferdinand's label-boss, Domino Record managing director Harry Martin said: "It's true, there is no Franz Ferdinand music currently available on iTunes. It's simply bewildering that a company that is perceived as championing new technology doesn't make it a priority to align itself with record labels in the independent sector that are championing new music. You would think we would be natural partners for each other."

Apple responds

Apple's response so far has been minimal, except to say: "Although music from Domino and Ministry of Sound is not currently live, we are working directly with them and hundreds of other labels to get their content live as quickly as possible."

Yet in July, a spokesman for the company told Macworld: "A lot of independent label music is already available and is being featured. More will be flowing in over the next few weeks - for example, most of the V2 and Beggar's catalogues are available. Sanctuary will be next. We're adding thousands of tracks to the stores every day, major labels and indies combined."

Also in July, AIM chairman and CEO Alison Wenham told Macworld: "The industry's future is wedded to the success of iTunes and similar services and it's great news for fans and industry alike that music from some of Europe's leading acts will soon be available on this service".