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Apple poised to expand, drop price of iTunes Plus service [confirmed]

Apple Inc. as early as this week will expand its iTunes Plus digital download store and reduce the price of the higher-quality, DRM-free music tracks offered through the service by nearly 25 percent, according to a published report.

Citing what we believe to be a very reliable source, ArsTechnica reports that iTunes Plus will expand its reach in the near-term to umbrella certain indie music labels on iTunes, but not all. What's more, however, Apple reportedly plans to drop the price of all iTunes Plus tracks at approximately the same time.

Presently, Apple sells the majority of its music tracks on iTunes for 99 cents, which come encoded at 128kbps AAC and wrapped in digital rights management (DRM) copy-protection measures that limit their use to five computers and seven burnt CDs. On the other hand, $1.29 iTunes Plus tracks are encoded in the higher quality 256kbps AAC and are not held down by any such restrictions.

"Currently, each track is $1.29 while 'normal' DRMed tracks are 99 cents apiece," Ars said. "That discrepancy will be no longer, as Apple will begin pricing all of its iTunes Plus songs at 99 cents apiece (DRMed tracks will also remain at 99 cents)."

The report goes on to speculate that the move on Apple's part is in response to the recent launch of Amazon.com's MP3 Store, which sells some 2 million songs from record label Universal as unprotected MP3 tracks for anywhere between 89 cents and 99 cents.

Apple's iTunes Plus service is currently comprised of unprotected songs belonging to another major record label, EMI. While the iPod maker has been actively courting other major labels to join its unrestricted service, the company has yet to make any successive announcements since launching iTunes Plus back in May.

Evidence of an iTunes Plus expansion and the associated price drops could surface as early as Wednesday, Ars said.

Update: Apple chief executive Steve Jobs has confirmed the price drop of iTunes Plus tracks in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"It's been very popular with our customers, and we're making it even more affordable," he said.

iTunes Plus songs will reflect the reduced price later today or tomorrow.

Update 2: According to an Apple spokesperson speaking to Reuters, Apple will be "adding over 2 million tracks from independent labels in addition to EMI's digital catalog."