New Delhi: More than a decade after it was first launched and soon after it started showing rupee prices for apps, iTunes has begun selling songs and movies in India for the first time. The move also follows the launch of iTunes 11, marking the first major design overhaul of the gateway to the ecosystem that has helped the iPhone, iPad and iPod become such runaway hits for Apple Inc.
There are not too many legal sources for media content in India, with online retailer Flipkart being one of the few to have taken some tentative steps on MP3 and ebook downloads. Still, Flipkart’s Flyte doesn’t always work flawlessly. Apple products, on the other hand, rarely fail on that front.
Compared with the 99 cents (around Rs.54 today) per song price in the US, Apple has kept prices low, which will help boost iTunes’ popularity in a country where piracy is rampant, with lack of access and high costs being cited as a defence for illegal downloads.
Most songs are priced at Rs.12, and albums at Rs.96, though this can be more or less, with popularity and novelty seeming to have an effect on price. In comparison with Flipkart’s Flyte MP3 downloads, iTunes is slightly more expensive—on Flyte, songs from the popular Hindi film Gangs of Wasseypur are Rs.9 each, and on iTunes they’re Rs.12 per song. This small difference could add up over time.
Another feature that users may find useful is iTunes Match, which is being offered to Indian users for an annual subscription of Rs.1,200. This service lets you back up your entire music library (including songs you don’t buy from iTunes) to the cloud if the songs are available on iTunes. You can then download the songs as often as you want at no extra charge. While Apple’s iTunes library includes 20 million songs, Match only covers the ones that users already own.
Nokia offers a similar service for users of its phones, called Nokia Music, with 4.5 million songs. The service costs Rs.50 for seven days, Rs.99 for 30 days, and Rs.250 for 90 days. New handsets come with free subscriptions for up to a year. Also, Nokia Music gives users the ability to download any song from its library—it’s not restricted to the ones you have.
Clearly, iTunes Music could be a big disruptor for businesses such as Flyte and for Internet radio broadcasters such as gaana.com or saavn.com. Still, iTunes Music is costlier than Nokia Music or Flyte. On the other hand, it’s easier to use than Flyte and doesn’t have any anti-copying software.
Music companies expect a bump in sales as well as an accompanying reduction in piracy from the iTunes launch.
“Stores like iTunes and Flyte come as a boon in this scenario where we all are working towards banishing music piracy,” said Shridhar Subramaniam, president (India and the Middle East) at Sony Music.
“This launch is going to change the way we purchase music in India, and will see the start of consumer paid download services outside the operator ecosystem. The company is offering 500,000 songs from its catalogue, including Bollywood, international and Tamil film songs,” he said. “We expect a great response.”
Prices for films on iTunes Movies, which allows users to rent or buy, depend on how recent the film is. You can, for instance, buy Chak De! India for Rs.190.
The selection is limited as far as international content goes. It’s also costlier, with prices going up to as much as Rs.490. It’s still one of the best offerings in India at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement.
Apple hasn’t brought TV shows and books to the iTunes store in India, although copyright-free books are available. There are several other ways of getting ebooks in India, aside from Flipkart’s Flyte and Amazon, but TV shows are hard to come by legally. Adding these two categories would greatly add value to Apple’s devices.