Napster launched its UK service today as it prepares to expand into Europe.

Existing digital music distributors here are now gearing up for the battle for Europe's ears.

"The UK is a $2 billion music market. It is the third largest in the world. It's a very important market for us," said Christopher Gorog, CEO of Roxio.

Napster's service is live to UK music fans today with a catalogue of 500,000 tracks, rising to 700,000 songs next month, the company said. Tracks cost £1.09 each, with a £9.99 service also available.

"We'll be looking to move into one or more European territories by the end of the year. That's the hope," said Gorog.

The world's third largest music market, Europe, offers territorial and aesthetic differences and a population that makes it likely that success – or failure – in the digital music imperative is likely to be determined by the fate of varying services here.

Responding to the news, existing European music distributor OD2 has today cut song download prices by half. OD2 has been developing its service for four years and already supplies the infrastructure and music for three-dozen European services such as Tiscali and MyCokeMusic.

The company is offering UK customers at its largest partner sites £40 worth of songs for just £20. OD2 CEO Charles Grimsdale said: "Since we launched, OD2 has taken the initiative to grow this market. We have the best retail partners, the most comrehensive range of artists – and the best deals. This latest offer is our best yet".

London-based music service Wippit has also broken cover, issuing its comment on Napster's move to the UK: "Napster is entering the UK market with the priciest download store to date," the company said.

"Wippit will continue to offer single downloads from 29p and our famous Unlimited Download Subscription Service for £50 a year or £4.99 a month. We welcome Napster to the UK market, because it just makes Wippit look even better," the company said.

While Apple remains quiet concerning its plans, preferring to deliver a service that is "perfect", rather than badly implemented, Sony will launch its Connect service in Europe in June, the company has said.

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