Apple Inc. : Apple Launches iTunes Store in Hong Kong, Singapore And Other Asian Markets
06/27/2012| 05:47am US/Eastern
--Apple launches iTunes online media store in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and 8 other Asian countries
--Move makes it easier for customers in the region to buy and download music and videos
By Shibani Mahtani and Gaurav Raghuvanshi
SINGAPORE--Apple Inc. (AAPL) said Wednesday it has launched its iTunes online media store in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and eight other Asian markets, making it easier for customers in the region to buy and download music and videos.
The iTunes store - the most popular music vendor in the world, with over 16 billion songs sold worldwide at the end of 2011 - has been available in the U.S. since 2003. But until Wednesday's launch, it was available in just three countries across Asia-Pacific: Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
Asian users with iPhones and iPads in other countries had previously been able to download applications like Angry Birds and navigation or taxi booking apps tailored specifically for individual countries, but they could not buy songs and movies from iTunes without a credit card or gift card registered in countries with full-fledged iTunes stores, owing to what the company said was copyright and licensing restrictions.
Apple also made its iTunes store available in Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The launch marks the latest effort by Apple to localize its offerings, featuring Asian artists like Jay Chou more prominently alongside Adele, Justin Bieber and the like to its users across the region. Google's YouTube has also been making similar strides towards localization, launching tailored sites for its growing audiences in increasingly-wired countries like Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
In Singapore, albums are priced between S$9.98 - S$12.98 (US$7.80-$10.15), with many songs sold for S$1.28 (US$1), which is slightly lower than in the U.S., where many songs are sold at US$1.29.
Asia is increasingly important to Apple, with a growing consumer culture that has created a huge demand for the company's products. Countries in Asia-Pacific also have some of the highest penetrations of iOS iPhone operating systems - which are also used in iPads and iPod touch devices - in the world, at more than 10% in Singapore compared to 6% in the U.S. in 2010, according to mobile advertising company AdMob.
In Southeast Asia, mobile Apple products like the iPhone and iPad are used by more than 50% of Internet users, according to media solutions company Effective Measure.
The launch of iTunes in Asia excludes some notable markets, though: India and China, both of which are home to a huge number of iPhones and other Apple devices through which consumers can purchase music and videos. Though China has nearly twice as many Internet users as in the U.S., digital music revenues are currently only 1% of those in the U.S., largely because of widespread digital music piracy, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) which represents the global recording industry. By the IFPI's estimates, China has a 99% digital piracy rate, and could represent a huge market for recording labels if authorized music was more readily available for legal downloading.
Some Internet users have complained that the offerings in Asia's iTunes stores aren't as comprehensive as those in the U.S., without television shows available for download in some areas. It also remains to be seen whether Asian consumers will be willing to pay for downloads on a much wider scale given the prevalence of piracy in the region.
But the ease of downloading legal music, record labels say, could at least help lead to some more authorized online purchases - and also help promote more local acts within their own home countries.
"iTunes opening here in Asia would give music fans a....channel to purchase music legally," said Errol Tan, co-founder of Singapore-based record label KittyWu Records. Artists represented by KittyWu can currently be heard on iTunes stores in the U.S., U.K. and across the world, and the record label is working with digital music aggregators to list the same artists in iTunes stores in Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.
"It is a great channel for local artists to use, and put their music out there."
Write to Shibani Mahtani at Shibani.email@example.com and Gaurav Raghuvanshi at Gaurav.Raghuvanshi@wsj.com