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Amazon Offers Digital Music Downloads, Toys Next?

Amazon.com Inc. is once again expanding its e-commerce offerings, this time launching a new, free digital-download area where music buffs can access music using Liquid Player and the MP3 format.

Beginning Tuesday, music buffs can download and listen to more than 20 full-length songs, including some previously unreleased, by 14 artists, including Sarah McLachlan, Cowboy Junkies, Lyle Lovett, Cheap Trick and Randy Newman. The downloads are free. The section will also feature exclusive interviews and articles written by artists.

"Free downloads are a great way for listeners to discover new music -- and a superb way to promote artists and their CDs," said Jennifer Cast, general manager of Amazon.com's music store. "Our free downloads area will evolve over time, so music fans will want to check back regularly to get the latest tracks from our ever-expanding roster of artists."

Amazon said it decided to expand its previous offering of 30-second samples after a successful run of two free, full-length songs in May from the upcoming release, "Mirror Ball," by Sarah McLachlan. The trial also included full-length songs by Public Enemy.

Amazon is also rumored to be strongly considering launching an e-commerce area for toys, in what the The Wall Street Journal calls "one of the worst kept secrets in online commerce."

In Tuesday's Journal article, several sources told the paper that the e-c pioneer will make the foray into the hot e-tail toys sector, pitting it against recent success story , and ToysRUs, which is scrambling to play catch-up with a late entry into the field.

According to the WSJ, Amazon began considering selling toys and games online after a trial run of a toy section in its online gift menu area last Christmas. Company executives were reportedly caught off-guard by the section's success and favorable response from user.

In late May CNET reported that Amazon was interested in taking a 40 percent stake in toy e-tailer BabyCenter Inc., but was outbid by rival etoys.

Amazon has reportedly been hiring buyers and merchandisers known in the toy industry and also building its toy inventory.

The moves already has toy veterans watching closely. ToysRUs Chief Executive Officer Robert Moog told the Journal "They're going to get in it in a really big way. Their team is already put together and they began notifying manufacturers of their plans in February. I would expect them to announce something in 30 to 45 days."