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iTunes Music Store Japan

August 4th, 2005

It’s about time.

Yesterday, Apple Japan rolled out the long-awaited iTunes Music Store for Japanese customers. Clearly in a compromise with record labels who don’t want there to be too much of a disparity between physical and online sales, the Japan iTMS will have two-tier pricing, with some songs on sale for ¥150 and others for ¥200 ($1.35 and $1.80, respectively). Albums, meanwhile, are priced at ¥1500 to ¥2000 (obviously, $13.50 and $18).

While this may sound expensive, keep in mind that new CDs often cost ¥3000 to ¥3300 here (up to $30), so the music store still represents a significant price cut, not to mention the fact that Japanese music shoppers can buy music by the song now for lower prices than before.

The Japanese music labels, meanwhile, have been even more restrictive in some ways about protecting their music from ripping, sharing and pirating; some CDs here are spiked so that they’ll munch up your optical drive if you put them into your computer (I know it’s out there, but don’t know how common it is). They have always had an even higher markup on music here than their counterparts in the U.S., and they are loathe to give that up completely. But that is also their downfall: in Japan, CD rental stores are legal, so a great many people just rent their music CDs from the stores for a few hundred yen, and then copy them at home. They even sell CD-Rs at the rental shops.

The selection at the JiTMS is still a little sparse, and is lacking in many areas (no movie soundtrack area yet, for instance). Many English-language artists are not represented (one example: Billy Joel is not there at all, despite having most if not all his work on the U.S. iTMS).

I just created an account for the new store, and had a bit of trouble: when I tried to go through the steps to create an account, I got “504” errors at each step, telling me to try again later. However, trying again just a few seconds later would do the trick. If you run into that error, just keep clicking. And by the way, iTunes detects if you’re using an English, and everything is kept that way even though you’re in the Japanese areas. They sometimes change the musicians’ names or song titles if they’re in Japanese, but not always (it’s a mixed bag); however, all the dialogs and such are kept in the language you’re using–the account sign-in was like that.

Podcasts seem to be universal, by the way–I’m still listed, even in the Japanese store.

Obviously, this is a work in progress; in some ways, it is amazing that Apple was able to get this far, considering how strongly Sony has been trying to lock Apple out of the portable player market. So we’ll just have to see how things come along–but this is, of course, a good first step.

On a side note, Apple is opening the new Shibuya Apple Store tomorrow, August 6th.

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