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      Comparisons to the Velvet Underground are

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iTunes Music Store Launches in Japan for Mac & Windows

Apple Computer announced Wednesday the launch of the iTunes Music Store in Japan, the world's second biggest music market. The Japanese version of the iTMS launched with one million songs priced at either ¥150 (US$1.35) or ¥200 ($1.80) each.

Apple touted the fact that the store is launching with local songs from globe and Ulfuls, exclusives from Def Tech, Crazy Ken Band, Chara, Little Creatures, Chie Ayado and The Complete B'z digital box set. The company said that it will feature exclusives from U2, Jack Johnson and Björk, and that more than 10,000 audiobooks are available, including works by Japanese authors.

The Japanese version of the iTMS will also feature podcasts, a feature added to the music store in its other markets in iTunes 4.9.

As with the North American and European iTunes Music Stores, Japanese customers will be required to use a credit card for song downloads, though Apple will also be offering iTunes Music Cards for cash purchases. Those cards will be available at Sofmap, Yamada, BIC Camera, Amazon Japan, Kojima, Yodobashi Camera as well as through the Apple Store itself.

Japan has long been one of Apple's most important markets, and the iPod has performed well, even though Japan is Sony's home turf. It is the iTunes Music Store, however, that has been one of the main catalysts for the growth in iPod sales, and the launch of a Japanese version of the iTMS has been seen as crucial for Apple.

The iron-clad stranglehold the Japanese recording industry has on that country's market has long been thought the principal reason behind the long wait for a Japanese iTMS. In Japan, the labels control the vast majority of the acts, what music those acts record, and in some cases, where that music gets played. Those labels, and all of the other players involved, have wanted as big a piece of Apple's iTMS pie as possible.

In addition, there were also concerns that CD sales would be eroded by easily-available digital downloads, the same kinds of concerns that US labels had before the launch of the iTMS in this market.

All of those obstacles have been overcome, however, as demonstrated by today's launch. Apple has heretofore sold more than 500 million songs around the world, and the Japanese launch of the iTMS greatly expands the company's digital reach.

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