Uni Music cuts online prices for some albums

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LONDON -- Universal Music is slashing European download prices for some of its older albums, the first broad online cost-cutting move by any of the four major music companies.

The world's largest seller of recorded music said Monday that starting Wednesday it would reduce the prices it charges online retailers for 1,500 albums ranging from The Who's "Quadrophenia" to R.E.M.'s "Reckoning."

The prices ultimately charged consumers will be determined by individual online services, Universal Music said, though a spokesman added that the response has been encouraging.

Broadly speaking, the albums in the program, including ones from The Cure, Dusty Springfield and Buddy Holly, are expected to sell for about 6.99 euros ($8.89) and 5.49 pounds ($10.43), reduced from 9.99 euros ($12.70) and 7.99 pounds ($15.20), respectively.

Download pricing of singles, which has been a sticky subject between music companies and Apple Computer Inc. and its market leading iTunes music store, will not be affected.

Some music executives, including Warner Music chief executive Edgar Bronfman, have argued that Apple should be more flexible and charge more for some songs and less for others, while Universal's Jimmy Iovine has said it's too early to consider raising any prices until more people pay to download.

Album prices online, on the other hand, have been variable but not in as concerted an effort as is being rolled out by Universal Music, which is owned by French media and telecoms conglomerate Vivendi.

A recent study found that only one in five European iPod owners regularly buys songs online, even though they are more likely to do so than owners of other portable music players.

"As the leading online record company, we are totally committed to expanding and developing the digital music market," said Max Hole, head of marketing for Universal Music's international division.

"The promise of the Internet has always been about making it easier for people to access music in new ways and at affordable prices, and that's what we are aiming to achieve."
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