Apple launched iTunes Plus last spring when it completed a deal with EMI allowing the online music store to sell the label’s tracks without copy protection. As an added consumer incentive, Apple encoded the unprotected tracks at a higher bit rate than the copy-protected tracks it sells.

But other online music stores have managed to offer unprotected tracks without pricing those tracks more than 99 cents. recently launched its own online music store – Amazon MP3 – featuring unprotected tracks for 99 cents each.

Apple might have more on its mind than just competing with other online stores. The company has faced criticism, even possible legal action in some countries, over its proprietary DRM technology that prevents iTunes tracks from playing on players other than iPods.

Of course, Apple’s spin makes it sound like the company is doing everyone a favor.

“iTunes Plus has been incredibly popular with our customers and now we’re making it available at an even more affordable price,” iTunes VP Eddy Cue said. “We’re adding over two million tracks from key independent labels in addition to EMI’s digital catalog and look forward to even more labels and artists making their music available on iTunes Plus.”