Apple looks set to introduce its long-awaited iTunes music download service for Windows users on 16 October at a special event in San Francisco.

The event's invitation reads: "The year's biggest music story is about to get even bigger." The invite features Apple's familiar icon for its service and its iPod — a silhouetted figure on a coloured background holding an iPod.

The company launched its iTunes Music Store for Mac on 28 April. Since then, information disclosed by the company shows it to be selling approximately 500,000 tunes each week.

Apple's success in delivering a Mac-only service was prelude to the debut of an ever-increasing assortment of varying Windows-only services. These include, MusicMatch and Roxio's forthcoming Napster 2.0 service.

While Needham analyst Charles Wolf estimates the online music distribution market could be worth US$3 billion (about £2.4bn) accounting for about 15 percent of the existing music market, the industry is shaping up to be extremely competitive.

Profit margins are also slight, with comapnies making an estimated 20p on every £1, from which they must pay maintenance, administration and other charges. Wolf said that at a profit of under $0.10 (about 5 pence) per song, the market doesn't represent a major profit opportunity for Apple.

Captive market

Apple's true advantage in the current market is that its service works on Macs, unlike its competitors. This means it has a guaranteed base income and market from which to operate. In competitive terms, this offers Apple a market advantage. Its other advantage is the popularity of its iPod MP3 player.

The company has consistently said its strategy in the market is to help generate more iPod sales. Apple Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson has called it a "Trojan horse" to help boost sales of the product, which is also available for Windows.

Apple hopes to beef-up Mac sales by encouraging Windows-based iPod and iTunes users to switch.

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