Today Japan, tomorrow... who knows?

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On April 28, 2003, I found myself sitting in a medium-sized hall in San Francisco’s Moscone West conference center in response to a cryptic invitation I’d received from Apple a few days earlier. As Steve Jobs took the stage, the Apple CEO dropped a bomb—Apple was entering the music business with the launch of the iTunes Music Store. With more than 200,000 songs from the major record labels, Apple sold 1 million tracks to curious music lovers in the U.S. in the first week of the Store.

Fast forward about two-and-a-half years, and the iTunes Music Store commands more than 80 percent of legally purchased music (and is actually making money from the venture); carries more than 1.5 million tracks from the big labels and indies (with new releases and back-catalog material added every Tuesday); recently passed 500 million tracks sold; includes audiobooks, podcasts, and music videos; and operates in 19 countries.

Oh wait…make that 20. On August 3, Apple finally added Japan to its stable of iTMS countries and, four days later, passed the 1 million song mark for sales in Japan. How? Apple is big in Japan, introduced the Store with very competitive pricing for that market, and includes both western content as well as music, audiobooks, and podcasts in Japanese or by Japanese authors. But it will be interesting to see how well the Store does in Japan, since Sony won’t take Apple’s success lying down.

People often ask why it takes so long to open an iTunes Music Store in a particular country. A common online post (even on our own Macworld Forums ) is “Why does Apple hate/not want money from us?” The answer is, the company doesn’t hate you, and it most assuredly wants your money. If Apple could sell you music, it would. It’s just that for each new store, Apple needs to negotiate new deals with record labels and artists, explore the market, set prices, and so on. It’s not as simple as Steve Jobs flicking a switch and saying “Let there be music!” (Although the complete depth of his powers has not been sounded quite yet.)

So where will (or should) Apple open the next store? What are the big, untapped markets out there? What can Apple add to the iTMS to keep its position strong in the market? Will Apple start selling digital video files to go along with a long-rumored Video iPod ? Your guess is as good as mine, so go ahead and share yours.

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