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Apple to open 'borderless' Euro music store

Questions company's 'one country, one store' restriction

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Apple yesterday confirmed that it will open the promised pan-European version of its iTunes Music Store in October 2004.

Speaking at the Popkomm show in Germany, Apple's online and apps chief, Eddie Cue, said: "We are well on pace to launch more EU stores. We will do it next month."

In June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the pan-European store, to cater for buyers in countries other than the UK, France and Germany. Versions of ITMS for those three territories were opened that same month.

But the new store - which, according to Cue, "will cover a good portion of Western Europe" - may prove troublesome for the company. In the UK, Apple has already come under criticism from the Consumers Association because the UK ITMS prices are higher than their German and French equivalents.

Apple claims, not unreasonably, that the price differential arises from the different licensing regimes in each territory - in itself already the subject of a European Commission enquiry. That's certainly true - it's one of the reasons why CDs are priced differently in different European nations and the US, for example.

However, Apple's refusal to allow, say, UK buyers to acquire songs from the French store, may run contrary to European Union single-market regulations. The fact that it's going to open a 'borderless' version of ITMS for multiple Euro states shows that if it can submerge the different licensing regimes for these countries, it ought to be able to do so for others.

Yes, there's the argument about providing locally oriented content in the correct language. But if the French and German sites are about that, why do big music markets like Italy and the Netherlands not get their own sites?

There are clear logistical and practical reasons why they don't, from the cost to Apple of setting up and staffing individual ITMS storefronts, through local labels' keenness (or lack of it) on licensing localised content, to the relative willingness and ability of those nations' online music buyers to work in English. But there's no doubt that such a 'generic' store weakens the arguments for imposing the company's 'one country, one store' rule elsewhere. ®

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