Apple Computer Inc. launched its iTunes online music store in Japan on Thursday, bringing its market-leading download service to the world's second-largest music market by album sales.

Apple has sold more than 500 million songs in 19 countries since it launched iTunes in the United States over two years ago. Its stores around the world offer about 1 million songs on average.

The California-based company said the long-anticipated Japan version of iTunes would charge 150 yen ($1.35) each for 90 percent of its songs and 200 yen for the other 10 percent, undercutting some existing players such as Sony Corp.'s Mora online download service, which charges 210 yen per song.

Apple said more than 15 Japanese companies including Avex Group Holdings Inc. would provide content for the iTunes store, which will have over 1 million songs.

While iTunes by itself is not viewed as a big money maker for Apple, it has helped drive sales of the company's iPod, by far the most widely used digital music player in a market researcher In-Stat expects to quadruple to 104 million units by 2009.

Analysts have said the lack of an iTunes online store aimed at users in Japan was a major reason behind Sony's securing the top market share for flash memory-based players in the Japanese market in recent months, overtaking the iPod shuffle.

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