Russia, India among newcomers as Apple service expands global footprint

Apple’s iTunes Store is launching in 56 new territories, with Russia, India, South Africa and Turkey among the larger newcomers.

The expansion, announced Tuesday, nearly doubles the number of territories in which the world’s leading music retailer operates and comes shortly after the launch of iTunes 11, which reflects one of the most substantial redesigns the platform has undergone since its initial bow in 2003.

In addition to retailing music, iTunes will also offer digital movies in Russia, Turkey, India and Indonesia, raising questions of how Apple will cope with the rampant piracy issues that plague such growing markets and posed an obstacle to the service’s launch.

While Indonesia, Egypt and Ukraine are also among the larger new markets, the expansion reaches surprisingly deeply into Sub-Saharan Africa — with 14 new nations onboard — as well as such island territories as Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and Anguilla. While cornering the market on digital music retail in Dushanbe may not seem the most high-return proposition, the service only increases its ubiquity by entering markets in developing countries where it has no local competitor. Of course, competition from existing services will be much steeper in such huge markets as India and Russia.

Piracy has been a particularly sticky issue in Russia of late, with the nation’s largest social networking site, VKontakte, facing increased scrutiny from Russian courts over the widespread copyright violations alleged to occur under its auspices. Whether the arrival of iTunes will help galvanize anti-piracy efforts in the country remains to be seen.

Apple stressed the localization of its regional versions, noting in its press release that the iTunes Store will feature “Elka in Russia, Sezen Aksu in Turkey, AR Rahman in India and Zahara in South Africa.” The iTunes catalog comprises some 20 million songs, though availability from country to country will surely vary significantly.

ITunes is now available in 119 countries, with digital movies on offer in at least 66. The retailer generated some $7.5 billion in sales for Apple over the last fiscal year.

While no digital music retailer even approaches its level of ubiquity, iTunes has nonetheless faced pressure from streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer (despite rumors, Apple has yet to announce plans to launch its own streaming or radio functions on iTunes), as well as newly arrived competitors in Microsoft’s Xbox Music and Google Play.

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