Apple Computer Inc. launched its iTunes online music store in Japan on Thursday, bringing its market-leading download service to the world's second-largest music market by album sales.
Apple has sold more than 500 million songs in 19 countries since it introduced iTunes in the United States over two years ago. While iTunes by itself is not viewed as a big money maker for Apple, it has helped drive sales of its wildly popular iPod portable music player.
The California-based company said iTunes would charge 150 yen ($1.35) each for 90 percent of its songs and 200 yen for the other 10 percent, undercutting some existing services such as Sony Corp.'s Mora, which charges 210 yen per song.
At least 15 Japanese companies including Avex Group Holdings Inc. will provide music for the iTunes store, Apple said. Columbia Music Entertainment Inc. said on Thursday it would also provide songs.
"We've got a lot of Japanese content on the store and we'll be adding even more as the months go on," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told a packed news conference in Tokyo. "We think it's going to set the standard for online music pricing in Japan."
Apple has sold about 22 million iPods since their introduction in October 2001, making it by far the most widely used digital music player in a market research firm In-Stat expects to nearly quadruple to 104 million units a year by 2009.
Apple controls about three-quarters of the U.S. market for digital music players and has a top market share of about 36 percent in Japan, although Sony has started to make some inroads in its home market with a popular flash memory device.
Some analysts have cited the lack of iTunes in Japan as a major reason Sony was able to secure 27 percent of the market for flash-based players in May and June, knocking Apple's iPod Shuffle to second place according to research firm BCN.
Apple hopes the introduction of iTunes in Japan will boost sales of the Shuffle, as well as its hard drive players.
"Clearly this is going to create renewed interest in music by all Japanese music lovers and that's going to bring attention to both iTunes and the iPod," Greg Joswiak, vice president of iPod product marketing, told Reuters.
"Overall we are hoping for the entire iPod product family to benefit from what we are doing with the music store."
Jobs said the iTunes service in Japan would also offer podcasts, which are sound files, and audio content such as radio shows. ($1=111.15 yen)