Soaring sales of music downloaded from Net threaten future of CDs

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Sales of "personal jukeboxes" that play music downloaded from the internet are set to triple over the next few years - wrecking sales of CD albums and singles.

Music industry analysts predict that Britons will buy 12.5 million devices like the Apple iPod over the next four years to play songs downloaded from websites or copied on to their personal computers.

In a report last week, experts at the music industry consultancy Understanding & Solutions revealed that the British download more music from the internet and use computers for playing music more often than the Americans, Japanese and French.

Earlier this year, legal downloads of songs out-stripped the sales of CDs, cassettes and vinyl records for the first time in Britain when more than 150,000 songs were sold over the internet in January.

The latest predictions follow the runaway success of the iPod, the palm-sized "personal jukebox" made by Apple, since its launch in the UK last year. It sold out over Christmas, and at least 2.5 million iPods have now been sold worldwide.

The device's success led Microsoft, the powerful software company, to announce last Thursday that it plans to launch a music player that will also show videos and photographs - a device already branded as an "iPod killer".

This year alone, 2.2 million iPods, Sony players and other types of "personal jukeboxes" will be bought in Britain, Understanding & Solutions predicts. By 2007, almost 3.9 million machines will be sold.

Most devices will be like the iPod - machines made to store music from PCs and the internet. But about 40 per cent of the devices sold will be portable CD players adapted to play home-recorded discs that store songs from the internet.

Global brands such as Coca Cola and Universal have also leapt into the internet music business - partly to counter the rise in home recordings of CDs.