Apple pressed the 'on' button for the UK, French and German incarnations of its iTunes Music Store today, and promised to turn the online download shop up to eleven when it opens a pan-European store and announces a series of deals with car makers later this year.
With a further 23 per cent of the world music market now added to Apple's US coverage, CEO Steve Jobs flew in to London to make the announcement. He brought with him enough songs to kick all three new stores off with 700,000 songs from all five major labels and "dozens" of indies.
Since each store has its own, local content, it's not clear whether that total represents the number of songs available in each territory or a cumulative European tally.
Either way, it's no mean figure. Nor is the pricing: £0.79 per song in the UK, which still works out more than the US price: $1.43 to $0.99, but is less than the £0.99 rival music seller Napster UK is charging. And all songs on the store are offered at that price, not just enough to make a headline. How long that will stay the case remains to be seen, but it's a good start.
French and German buyers will pay €0.99 a song and €9.99 for albums. The UK album price is an impressive £7.99. However, unlike individual songs, that price is only for "most" albums, Jobs admitted, so some will be more expensive.
The Euro prices will be maintained when Apple launches a pan-European store to cater for the continents other nations. Jobs promised it would open by "October", and will initially be offered only in English. Jobs offered no comment on the launch of Canadian or Japanese stores.
However, he did say the addition of the three new outlets will go some way to getting ITMS past the 100m download mark - to date, the tally stands at 85m, he said.
He also signalled a series of announcements with automobile makers to build connectivity between iTunes and in-car stereo systems. It's easy enough to hook up an iPod to a cassette player today, but expect better adaptor mechanisms to be announced in due course. BMW has been suggested as one of Apple's partners. Jobs didn't provide that level of detail, but it's the kind of marque we'd expect Apple to ally itself too.
Jobs also signalled his disapproval of subscription schemes, such as the one Napster's touting, though he didn't name any names. People want to own music, not rent it, he said. We suspect the truth lies somewhere between: folk want to own some, important tracks, it's true, but they'd rather have cheaper access to others. There's room for a subscription service as a way of inexpensively sampling music, though we'd question whether, say, Napster's £9.95 a month really counts as inexpensive. Whatever, it's a usage model Apple would be unwise to dismiss so readily.
Finally, don't expect to find the Beatles on ITMS, except through cover versions. Without a hint of irony, Jobs searched and found Gerry and the Pacemakers' recordings on the service, noting how they were originally manager Brian Epstein's back-up band if success proved elusive for its other Liverpool signing, the Fab Four... ®
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