Music industry insiders expect Apple, Napster and other major digital music services to launch in Europe as soon as the second quarter 2004.

While Apple remains tight-lipped about plans to introduce its service in Europe, Universal Music's eLabs president Larry Kenswil told Macworld: "By the second or third quarter there will be a number of major services in Europe, and I expect one of these will be Apple's iTunes Music Store."

Kenswil spoke at the well-attended Music and Technology conference at the Royal Society in London yesterday. His assessment of a Q2 rollout for Apple's music store was shared by representatives from BMG, EMI and other smaller labels represented at the show who were spoken to by Macworld.

He said: "As far as we know, the deals for Europe have been done, all the agreements are in place to introduce services here."

He added that what remained now is for operators to fix the fine detail and make the necessary software adjustments and infrastructure investments to get legal digital music into the hands of Apple's European music fans.

Industry 'must cope'

The market opportunity is huge, all attendees agreed. Musician Feargal Sharkey delivered a keynote speech at the show, saying: "Every single period of growth in the history of the music industry is driven by new technology, not the music itself."

While calling on music industry leaders to get highly-focused on the industry changes taking place, he warned: "Inability to cope with market demand will not be taken as an excuse."

Sharkey observed: "Apple's iTunes Music Store: Apple recently revealed that it has sold around 25 million songs so far; and the company sold 700,000 iPod music players in the three month Christmas period. This has created the potential for Apple to supply over two billion legal music downloads at 99 cents each."

Director general of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) Andrew Yeates was present at the event, and told Macworld of his praise for Apple's vision in creating the world's first popular digital music service. Describing the new breed of digital music consumer as a "constituency to be wooed to legal music services," he said: "The last thing the industry wants to do is litigate against illegal file sharers, but we do need to support the new services as they are introduced this year."

Kenswil describes Apple's iTunes service as "outstanding," and is resolute that Europe will be next for digital music services. He praised Steve Jobs efforts for galvanizing the industry into action: "We had Steve Jobs. He stepped up with a large marketing campaign. The industry needed someone to put a big stick in the ground and stand there and say "I am going to do this". Given that leadership, others followed. Such services are going to roll out across the globe."

Apple hasn’t yet announced any details regarding its iTunes Music Store roll-out plans, though Apple CEO Steve Jobs has said the company aims to launch such services in Europe in 2004.

Apple’s iPod mini will launch in Europe in April.