The launch of iTunes Music Store in Japan helped more than double the number of songs purchased online during the third quarter of the year compared to the previous quarter, according to figures released by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) today.

The association said there were 2.3 million downloads from Internet-based music stores during the July to September quarter. In the first and second quarters of this year downloads totalled 1.1 million and 1.0 million respectively, according to the RIAJ figures, which have only been available from this year.

Song sales may be higher

The figures are based on data submitted by major portal operators including Apple, Label Gate and Yahoo Japan, said Taizo Shinya, a spokesman for the RIAJ. The data counts downloads and not tracks, so a single track or several purchased together as an album are each counted as one download.

The biggest event of the quarter was the launch of the iTunes Music Store Japan on August 4. Apple reported that the service served 1 million downloads in its first four days of operations but the company hasn't released data since and the RIAJ did not provide a breakdown by retailer.

Other online music stores have reported slow but steady growth. The Mora portal, which is operated by Label Gate, said in October that monthly downloads topped 500,000 during the quarter and are expected to climb with the launch of new Walkman models by Sony.

Revenue rises when prices drop

The total value of Internet downloads during the quarter was ¥436 million ($3.7 million), which put the average price paid per song at ¥186, compared to ¥223 in the second quarter. Many stores cut their prices from the ¥200 or ¥300 typically charged previously, after Apple launched its service charging ¥150 for most songs.

Despite the rising number of Internet downloads, the sector remains much smaller than the mobile phone download market, which includes ring tones.

During the third quarter mobile phone downloads totaled 72 million tracks to represent 97 per cent of the download market. The total value of such downloads was ¥9.1 billion, which works out to an average price of ¥126 per track.

Overall the Japanese music download market totaled 74.5 million tracks during the quarter, up 26 per cent on the second quarter of the year. The total value of downloads was ¥9.5 billion, up 25 per cent on the quarter.