Tracks to be available through third-party sellers

NEW YORK — Marking the biggest foray yet into the world of a la carte downloads by a major label, Universal Music Group has inked a deal to offer more than 43,000 songs on the Net for downloading, burning and transferring to portable players for 99¢ each, or $9.99 per album.

The tracks, which will be available through such third-party sellers as Bestbuy.com, Gallery of Sound and Tower Records Online, include work from UMG artists Ashanti, Diana Krall, Jay-Z, U2 and Sheryl Crow plus others.

Offering will kick off with an exclusive online sale of “Through the Rain,” the first single off R&B thrush Mariah Carey’s new Island Records LP “Charmbracelet.” Album is set to hit the street Dec. 3.

UMG will offer the tracks in secure format only, using digital-rights technology from Liquid Audio and Microsoft’s Windows Media division.

Last July, Universal broke new ground in the industry by cutting a deal to release 1,000 albums’ worth of material online in the unprotected MP3 format — best known for sparking the free file-sharing craze — through fellow Vivendi Universal division Emusic.

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