Last night, Safari crashed when I was five keystrokes and a submit button away from posting the first version of this Backstage article: Exploring International iTunes Stores. Though it was meant to just be a simple, casual look at some of the interesting differences between the various iTunes Stores out there, and I was prepared to just drop the topic when the crash lost my work, reader requests and personal interest led me to retype it and add a little. Enjoy.
Click below for the rest of the story, with pictures.
For years, we’ve been hoping that Apple would pull off another amazing, game-changing media industry feat, and enable customers from one country to shop in the iTunes Stores developed for different countries. Despite interface similarities, their catalogs aren’t the same, and while the U.S. Store has perhaps the largest overall collection of music, TV shows, and movies, it does not provide access to everything that’s scattered across the other Stores. Consequently, you can discover a spectacular group such as Dragonette in the U.K. Store, but you can’t buy its album Galore if you’re a U.S. customer.
Nothing has changed on that front. Apple continues to stock each of the Stores separately, most likely for both contractual and regionally relevant reasons, but despite the presence of a “My Store” menu at the bottom of the iTunes Store window, doesn’t allow you to shop in any store other than where your billing address is based. It’s like an international bricks-and-mortar record store without an import section—or one with a huge import section that only people from the foreign countries are allowed to buy from.
Again most certainly for contractual and regional reasons, there are other differences between the international iTunes Stores. Take, for instance, the latest version of the store’s upper left corner list of media types, complete with that odd new pull-down menu of genres.
In the German store, you’ll note that there’s no Movies section, TV Shows section, or iTunes Latino section. There’s no iTunes Turkish or other significant ethnic minority alternative, though some of the countries’ stores have similar regional spotlights for local artists, found elsewhere on the page. Additionally, many of the foreign iTunes Stores lack true movie offerings, so Apple continues to offer Pixar’s short films as an alternative.
TV shows aren’t widely available in iTunes outside of the U.S., U.K., and Canada, so when Germany’s store promotes the American Idol-alike Deutschland Sucht Den Superstar, it’s for a compilation album, not U.S.-style video clips from the show.
There are occasionally some interesting country- or region-specific promotions that don’t appear in the U.S. iTunes Store. For instance, Coke has partnered with iTunes in Japan, mirroring the earlier Pepsi and iTunes U.S. promotion that recently saw Apple replaced by Amazon for a digital download giveaway.
And there are also differences in iPod games, which are known under different header titles (Jeux iPod in France, for instance), and sometimes different game titles: possibly because of trademark concerns, Sudoku is known as Num-pre in its origin country of Japan, and iQuiz was renamed iPod Quiz there. Meanwhile, Scrabble—the rare iPod game that requires language-specific dictionaries—appears in the U.S. and Canadian Stores, but not the U.K. or other stores, thanks to substantial regional variations in acceptable words.
There are also questions as to how quickly Apple keeps the Stores’ similar inventories mirrored. The answer appears to be “pretty quickly,” though we did get an e-mail yesterday from a reader in Italy who claimed that Kaplan’s SAT Prep titles hadn’t been updated in his country after we ran a news story announcing their re-release. By the time we checked, the titles were available, but there apparently was a gap. This makes us wonder how lag issues will work for the upcoming App Store for iPhones and iPod touches; will international rights screening hold up publishing of new programs?
No difference between the U.S. and international iTunes Stores better illustrates that concern than the TV Shows and Movies sections of the U.S. Store, which aren’t even close to being mirrored in the other stores. Whereas U.S. customers have access to a huge wealth of TV programming, U.K. customers are only just getting access to certain local and international programs—Lost, for instance, is shown as a “new series” and Channel 4 was just added over the past week. Movies, of course, have a long way to go.
Another interesting difference is Apple’s use of banners to highlight promotions on the main Apple.com web site. Whereas the U.S. Store is currently touting Altec Lansing’s T612—the first iPhone docking speaker system—the Japanese and Australian Stores are amongst others offering a free iPod nano with the purchase of a Mac computer. Other stores are highlighting current pricing for the iPod touch.
International content promotions are obviously of major interest to Apple these days, as these separate images from the U.S., Spain, and Japanese iTunes Stores show. Madonna, REM, and the Raconteurs are just a few of the artists who are getting heavy exposure across multiple territories, and it’s clear that Apple either likes to spotlight artists who can be sold across most of its Stores, or has promotional deals in place with certain globally-minded companies. It’ll be interesting to see how and whether this spotlighting system works with the App Store, as well.
You can check out international iTunes Stores for yourself using the drop-down country link at the bottom of the main iTunes Store window. Let us know if you find anything worth sharing!