The majority of Macworld Online readers are ready to dump CDs in favour of digital downloads, according to a recent reader poll.

Most respondents - 53 per cent of 876 votes cast - are ready to dump CDs in favour of assembling a digital music collection. 299 voters (34 per cent) are not, while 115 readers (13 per cent) are unsure.

While voters were positive about Apple's service, some point to Apple's track record for rolling out services internationally: "It has been well over a year since the iPhoto service was released in North America, and still there's nothing internationally," said one.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we are still moaning about the lack of a European iTunes Music Store in 2006," said another bitter Mac user.

"I hope Apple will soon realize it has an international customer base, and make Sherlock 3 work in the UK," one reader said.

Copyright restrictions In its current incarnation, Apple's music download service is for US customers only. This is because of the nature of copyright in the world of music. The music business has different copyright agreements in different territories, and artists signed to one label in one country are not necessarily signed up with the same label in another.

Its a negotiatory minefield for those seeking to harness the Internet for music sales in the 21st century.

However, Apple Europe's vice president Pascal Cagni recently told Music Week: "I have only one interest, which is to launch it in Europe."

The report gave rise to a wave of speculation that Apple will launch its service in Europe by autumn 2003.

When the service reaches Europe, Macworld readers are ready to make tracks to use it: "I'll almost certainly buy some tracks from Apple when the service becomes available in the UK."

Another reader looked at price: "It depends on a number of things - not least of which is Apple's usual practice of translating dollar values to pounds. 99 pence per track is clearly not such great value as, say, 75 pence. People will be more likely to grab CD singles when they first appear, often for £1.99, but with extra tracks."

Online first However, music industry insiders have told Macworld they expect to see new releases appear through legitimate online channels before they reach brick-and-mortar record shops.

Another reader remarked: "The selection needs to broaden for the service to be a success". Apple currently offers 200,000 tracks online.

Music buyers willing to shop online have their own needs, Jupiter Media analyst Mark Mulligan said: "Music fans want a one-stop-shop for online music content. They do not want to have to shop around from label to label. In principle Apple's service is a perfect fit: using proven consumer expertise and product design to develop a service where the focus is on providing a compelling consumer proposition."

A reader comment reflected Mulligan's thoughts: "I've got better things to do than to spend hours surfing for dubious-quality illegal music," they said. Looking at price, they added: "New CDs cost around £14 on the high street, and not much less from online retailers. So at $9.99 per album I would happily forego the artwork and a nice label."

The beauty of Apple's service is that it permits music buyers to download relevant artwork for their purchases. This can be printed out and used to make covers when shoppers burn their music to CD.

As well as ease-of-use Apple's 200,000 track strong service offers: the facility to preview tracks prior to purchase; the opportunity to acquire single album tracks when required; and a user-friendly approach to back-up, burning music to CD, and storage on iPods and other Macs. It also integrates digital rights-management protection to guard the interests of the artists and the music business.

Killing pirates There are opportunities to improve the offering. KPMG media analyst Calum Chace told Macworld: "I see opportunities for cross-promotions, which the pirates can't match."

EMI's head of new media Fergal Gara told us: "In terms of adding value to a service there are things that can be done. It's about getting to the user experience: integrating biographical and artist information, video clips and other interactive elements.

"I have seen formats that are under development in which users can remix the tracks they buy," he revealed.

Perhaps peer-to-peer services were able to profit from the difficulty consumers have in seeing digital goods as tangible assets. People psychologically value tangible objects above invisible assets. One reader remarked: "I'd purchase the CD from one of the Internet shops. You then have a hard copy, a higher quality music format on the CD, and the printed artwork."

Should be smarter One reader is critical of Apple's service: "If your drive crashes and you have not backed-up your paid-for music files, you have to buy them all over again. Why? Surely Apple will have your account details and a history of what tracks you have purchased.

"It should be straightforward to re-download these paid for tracks," he said.

There is a precedent. The Mac-friendly Emusic subscription-based download service from Universal Music maintains a database of tracks downloaded by its customers, which customers can access. Once acquired, tracks can easily be identified and downloaded again.

Many readers say they would use Apple's service to buy individual album tracks, or hard-to-find music. Some would still choose to buy CDs when they like most of the tracks.

The move to digital systems poses fresh risks. As converging industry forces and new technologies drive mass entertainment into the digital space, many analysts see an emerging digital divide in which many people don't have access to the technologies they need to exploit 21st century media.

One reader touched on this, saying: "I don't have 24-hour access to broadband. I use a modem at home. This makes it much harder to download large files."

Initiatives to bridge the digital divide exist - the UK's Age Concern, for example, is running a month-long Silver Surfers Festival to help get older people onto the Net. Just ten per cent of the world's population has Internet access.

Have your say. Add your voice to the debate on the future of CD, or vote on this week's poll: "What should Apple do with its Mac mouse?"