Roxio is preparing a test launch for its Napster 2.0 digital music distribution service.

Napster 2.0 will launch for testing on October 9. Company spokesman Seth Oster told Reuters that full details of the service would be announced at a launch event in New York that day.

The service will begin with a catalogue of 500,000 songs and will offer music lovers a choice of either individual track downloads or a premium subscription service.

Roxio acquired Napster for $5 million in 2002. The company has also inked a deal with Samsung, under which the latter company will sell a digital audio player that will work with Roxio's service. This week, Napster and Microsoft revealed a specially designed Napster 2.0 interface that will be part of Microsoft's new media centre product.

Gold rush

Since Apple launched its groundbreaking iTunes Music Store service in April a host of new services have launched, or been announced, in an industry landscape that promises profits to whichever services attain market traction.

The music industry's move to welcome the new services comes as it faces significant decline in sales, in comparison to the sales peak it achieved in the closing years of the 1990s.

Yesterday, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) revealed that world sales of recorded music fell by 10.9 per cent in value and 10.7 per cent in units in the first half of 2003. That industry attributes declining sales to file-sharing and commercial piracy.

IFPI chairman and CEO Jay Berman said: "Despite some healthy signs that a legitimate online music business is now taking hold, the music industry continues to suffer from unauthorized file-sharing and commercial piracy. We are responding to this decisively, however: on the physical piracy front, seizures of discs rose four-fold last year; on the internet piracy front, the US industry is leading a highly effective global public-awareness drive on the legal risks of file-sharing; and on the new business front, a marked change in the landscape is visible as a number of legitimate online music sites take hold".

Music industry wisdom has its critics. A survey released by InsightExpress on October 1 revealed that nearly three out of four music downloaders feel that peer-to-peer sites "actually expand their musical horizons, leading them to purchase more – not less music." 85 per cent of the 500-person sample group claimed to be more likely to buy an artist's music if they got to sample it on the Internet first. 37 per cent claimed their music purchases had actually increased as a result of downloading songs.

The music business remains to be convinced. BPI (British Phonographic Industry) executive chairman Peter Jamieson recently told a music-industry conference in Manchester: "The fact that a shoplifter occasionally or even mainly gets their wallet out and buys things legitimately does not make them immune from prosecution.