Convenient online music, for a price

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Convenience, or impulse indulgence, has its price. But how high? Sprint Nextel tested the limits when it put a $2.50 price tag on songs downloaded from its wireless music store, which opened late last year. That's more than double the going price for downloaded songs, and pundits predicted the service was doomed.

Sprint, along with Verizon and its $2-per-song price tag, said that consumers would pay extra for the ease of getting a song when, and where, they wanted it.

Apple Computer pretty much set the standard at 99 cents a tune with its iTunes service. But the wireless companies reject a comparison with iTunes: Apple is piggybacking for free on the wired Internet, while cell companies are selling songs across their expensive wireless networks. The carriers also give you a free, higher-quality download on the wired Internet. In fact, Verizon will sell the same songs online for $1 that you can later manually dump from your PC to the phone, across a USB connection. So getting it wirelessly is the extra, and an extra convenient one that consumers would pay more for.

But not double the price, says Scott Weiss, who runs a wireless consulting firm called Usable Products Co. Consumers might pay an extra quarter to get another copy of a song for a different device – in this case, a handset, according to a survey his company recently conducted.

That may be what consumers say, but they're acting differently–downloads so far exceed Sprint's expectations. That, Sprint execs say, suggests the price is just fine.