Apple on Tuesday took a major step in expanding its presence in the international market, launching the iTunes store in more than 50 countries--a move that nearly doubles the list of countries where it sells music.
Consumers in Russia, Turkey, India, and South Africa and 52 additional countries can now purchase and download music from Apple's extensive music store. That lets the store sell music in a total of 119 countries, a significant achievement in itself, but one that also keeps the company far, far ahead of rivals like Amazon, Google, and the Xbox Music service when it comes to international markets.
Additionally, Russia, Turkey, India, and Indonesia also joined the 62 countries where Apple already offered digital movies on the iTunes Store--also well ahead of its rivals. (Amazon, though behind on movies and music, does beat Apple in offering e-books internationally. An October MacStories survey puts the retail giant in 179 countries to Apple's smaller 31, making it the only area of digital media where Apple lags internationally.)
That's pretty solid work for a venture that didn't even exist at the beginning of the millennium. It's been nearly a decade since Apple took its first steps abroad in Europe and Japan. Starting a store, even one that exists entirely in cyberspace, isn't so easy as flipping a switch; it represents a real investment in infrastructure and content to plant the company's flag abroad.
That process, it appears, starts with using the App Store as Apple's first foray into a country: Since the company controls the rights to most of the content in the store, that provides a relatively frictionless entry into a market. (Indeed, the App Store is already available in 155 countries.)
After that, it gets more complicated.
For legal and logistical purposes, for example, agreements must be negotiated with content providers and credit card companies to ensure that Apple has the rights to sell music and movies in a new territory, as well as the ability to charge for it. (To use the Russian version of the store, for example, users must possess a valid credit card linked to a billing address inside that country.) Similar issues come up for Apple in its other international efforts, including projects like expanding the availability of iTunes Match to new regions.
There's also marketing to be done in each country; traditionally, Apple makes an effort to secure recordings from popular artists in each new market. This week's announcement was no exception: The company's press release on Tuesday, for example, noted that iTunes Store carries music by "Elka in Russia, Sezen Aksu in Turkey, AR Rahman in India, and Zahara in South Africa."
The iTunes Store is available for Mac and PC through iTunes 11, which is available as a free download from Apple, and, of course on Apple's iOS devices as well.
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