Apple launches iTunes Music Store in Japan

Apple launched the Japanese version of its iTunes Music Store on Thursday bringing to 20 the number of countries in which the service is available.

“We’re super excited about this,” said Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, at a launch event in Tokyo. “We’ve been working on it for a long time.”

The Japan service launch comes more than two years since Apple started offering the service in the U.S. Its launch was delayed by protracted negotiations with local record companies, said Jobs told IDG News Service on the sidelines of the event.

At launch the service features 1 million tracks from both Japanese and international record companies.

“This will continue to improve over the next several months,” said Jobs.

While the timing of the service launch in Japan has been the subject of speculation by users and the local media for some time, perhaps more attention has been paid to the price that Apple will charge users of the service. Apple’s US$0.99 price it charges in the U.S. stands in contrast to Japanese services which typically charge between ¥200 and ¥300 per song (US$1.80 and $2.70).

So it was with some disappointment, judging by the murmurs heard, that the audience of Apple users, staff and customers greeted Job’s announcement of a ¥200 per song.

Those with experience of Apple launch events perhaps knew better that Jobs wouldn’t have taken to the stage to announce a price that’s already standard in the market. So his next statement that this only applied to 10 percent of the songs on the service was greeted with apparent relief and his announcement of a ¥150 price for the rest of the music online was greeted with applause.

“I’m very satisfied with the price, it’s considerably cheaper than anything else in the market,” Jobs told IDG News Service later.

Launching with the service in Japan are some of the features that have helped make it a success in other countries. These include exclusive tracks from local artists, box-sets and music videos. Among the specials highlighted by Jobs was a 341-song set of songs by “B’z,” a very popular Japanese rock group, that includes early and hard-to-get recordings and can be purchased for ¥18,800.

Apple is also offering Japanese-language audio-books and has teamed up with local radio broadcasters and others to offer a library of podcasts.

Gift cards that can be used against music purchases are also available from Thursday in several major electronics and entertainment retailers in denominations of ¥2,500, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000.

Despite the delay, the lack of the service hasn’t affected sales much. Apple’s iPod is the top-selling digital music player in Japan and a succession of products from rival makers including Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. hasn’t been able to push it off the number one position.

Apple’s iPod enjoys a 36 percent market share in Japan, according to data presented by Jobs. Sony is in second place with 22 percent followed by Rio-brand players at 12 percent, iRiver players at 8 percent and Creative Technologies players at 7 percent, he said.

Updated 12:00 AM 08/04/05: Added pictures from the event.

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