Apple has extended its iTunes Store to 12 Asian markets including Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, but not to the Indian, Chinese and Indonesian markets. Users in the 12 new markets will be able to buy and download local and international music from all major labels and thousands of independent labels, and rent or purchase movies from major studios including 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, The Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers. In addition to these, Apple has also extended its iTunes Match service in these markets, allowing users to re-download previously downloaded music (even music purchased & downloaded from sources other than iTunes) from iTunes, and store it in the cloud.

Note that the iTunes Store is different from the Apps Store, which is also available in India. Presently, the Indian iTunes Store only features some free books and podcasts. So why did Apple exclude India from this launch? Apple India Corporate Communications, when contacted by MediaNama, declined to comment on the matter.

Licensing Issues?

However, we feel that it might have to do with Apple getting a blanket license for the Asia Pacific region, which excludes India. We tried to access the Sri Lankan iTunes Store and found a large number of Asian content including Asian artists such as Jay Chou, Girls Generation and Andy Lau. It’s strange that Apple decided to include them in the Sri Lankan store as they’re not relevant to the region, we don’t see any other reason apart from Apple getting a blanket license covering the region.

Perhaps Apple faced problems getting licenses for international movies and music from record labels for the Indian region. This might have to do with labels putting a higher price, and Apple not being sure about the ROI (return on investment) from the content. It also might be possible that labels already have exclusive deals with some other player. Note that Nokia also offers DRM-free music through it’s Nokia Music service, and features a good amount of international music. However, Nokia’s service is subscription based and does not allow users to buy individual items. A lot of international music is still missing on Flipkart’s Flyte digital store, which offers music downloads. We recall that Flipkart had mentioned that it was still in the process of cracking a deal with EMI.

It’s also possible that Apple’s market research might have indicated that the current prices that it could offer, were more than what Indian users would pay, apart from the rampant piracy in the region. Even in the Sri Lankan store most songs are priced at $0.99(aprox Rs 56), although there are some available at $0.49. International songs are available for as low as Rs 9 per download on Flipkart’s Flyte, although they come with a download limit of four.

Also, Apple would have felt that launching in the Indian region without inking licensing deals with the Indian music labels and without offering Hindi/Tamil/Other regional music would not make it a feasible proposition, since a vast majority of users would not be satisfied with an International-only catalogue.

Update: Apurv Nagpal, former CEO of music company, Saregama, in a response to our story, tweeted that Apple did not approach the company, at least till the time he was at the helm. He had put in his papers in April.

It might be possible that Apple would first negotiate deals with the IMI and other music licensing bodies including PPL before it launches the iTunes Store in India. Till then, players like Flipkart and Hungama will continue to benefit and lead the legal downloads market.