Napster will announce the UK launch date for its digital music service next week.

The company – which competes with Apple's iTunes Music Store servic in the US – sees the UK launch as a first step toward rolling its services out across Europe, Reuters reports.

Like Apple, Napster has faced tough negotiation with Europe's labels to gain rights to distribute music, and has not so far announced any major label licenses.

As previously reported the company has arranged a deal with the Association of Independent Music, which represents independent labels in the UK, which account for 30 per cent of UK music sales.

"The growth of industry-backed download services from the likes of iTunes, Napster and Europe's OD2 and Wippit, are viewed as crucial to halting slumping sales of recorded music", reports Reuters, which describes Europe's digital music market as "brutally competitive".

Europe is likely to become the bellweather for success in the digital music distribution market, as it will pit long-established local players, such as OD2 and Wippit up against new arrivals: the market dominant Apple and well-known Napster.

Along with these competitors, Sony and RealNetworks are likely to arrive to make their bids for market share in what could become the deciding battle for long-term viability for those involved.

Apple's current ace-card is that its cross-platform service is the only one to favour Mac users, a demographic that includes many in the creative industries and musicians themselves.