As the second anniversary approaches on April 28, Apple's iTunes Music Store could today theoretically command as much as 35 per cent of the UK singles market following the combination of the digital and physical singles charts.

This is based on British Phonographic Institute (BPI) statements claiming singles sales doubled once the digital and physical singles charts were combined. However, the BPI has been at pains to stress that the 35 per cent market figure is no more than surmise. "Apple doesn't command anywhere near 35 per cent", a BPI representative countered.

There were 383,000 single track downloads sold in the week ending April 17 (the first week of the combined chart) compared with 393,000 physical singles. With Apple accounting for 70-80 epr cent of download sales, its likely the company has a major slice of that market.

BPI dismisses 35 per cent claim

However, a BPI representative countered 35 per cent estimates, saying: "I'd guess that iTunes has a less than 70 per cent share of the downloads that contribute to the top 40." He added that the single downloads market is sp[read across 60,000 titles, while the physical sales chart customarily tracks just 200 releases at any time. "Downloads' share of the singles chart is not 50 per cent", he said.

"While iTunes commands a reputed 70 per cent of the digital download business, it doesn't necessarily follow that this means it controls 70 per cent of the download top 40. Because there is greater demand for these tracks, they are available on more services - around 25 services actually report to the chart," the BPI said. "I guess iTunes has a lower than 70 per cent share of the downloads that contribute to the top 40".

Apple UK's biggest music retailer?

A recent report by Digital Tech Consulting suggests Apple commands over 75 per cent of the online download market, lending weight to the implication that Apple could influence the UK singles chart today.

Digital download sales rose by 900 per cent in 2004, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) .

Global expansion imminent

Apple intends opening iTunes Music Store in Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, according to multiple reports. This would raise the number of countries the service is available in to 20.

However, Apple's international plans for iTunes is encountering challenges. The well-publicised litigation between Apple Corps. and Apple Computer that relates to a historical agreement between the two companies is case in point.

iTunes music store is also under investigation by the European Commission for charging UK iTunes customers more than users in France or Germany.

Indie and cutting-edge artists in peril?

UK independent labels have also filed complaints with the Office of Fair Trading claiming they are being harmed by the new chart - because companies such as Apple have seemed reticent to add independent music to their offering.

Recent (April 25) figures from the Association of Independent Music (AIM) claim 69 per cent of indie singles in the top 75 are lower than they would have been without combining the two charts.

"In the top 200 songs to date this year, 26 per cent of the entries and 14.3 per cent of the sales are from indies. Of the top 2,000 downloads this week, 179 (8.95 per cent) are on indies (representing 10.5 per cent of sales)", AIM said.

The BPI responds: "No one is pretending that indie representation on the download platforms is as good as it could and should be, and there is a long way to go."

However, the BPI counters: "66 per cent of the new entries into last week's Top 40 directly attributable to the inclusion of downloads are indies, and just 33 per cent are major. 66 per cent of the losers that drop out of the Top 40 because of the inclusion of downloads are majors and 33 per cent indie.

"The fact is that in the only chart that is published or broadcast to the general public, the Top 40, indies did better", a BPI representative said.

The latter organisation is actively encouraging music download services such as iTunes to carry independent repertoire.