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Apple Japan 'will' open Music Store - chief

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Apple may be getting closer to launching a Japanese iTunes Music Store by the end of the year, if comments made by the head of its Japanese operation this week are anything to go by.

Yoshiaki Sakito, Apple Japan's President, said on Tuesday that the company will launch ITMS in Japan, local newspaper the Mainichi Shimbun reported today.

That said, Apple Japan was "poised" to enter negotiations with recording companies over licensing and online pricing, the paper said, suggesting there's still a long way to go before ITMS Japan becomes a commercial reality.

To date, it's proved very hard for companies to launch digital music services in Japan, thanks to the power wielded by recording companies, most of who fear declining CD sales if this downloading thing takes off. Never mind that digital music actually offers them better margins, they're not at all keen on it.

Indeed, Apple Japan's attempts to launch ITMS in the country were last year reported to be foundering on labels' issues with the apparent "weakness" of the company's DRM technology.

That clash suggests that Apple has at least been in talks with major Japanese labels, so its progress in licensing content may be more advanced than the Mainichi Shimbun report suggests. At the very least, it would appear Apple has calmed the music industry's worries over the strength of its copy protection - now they can get on and work out how much content Apple will get, and how much punters are going to have to pay for it.

Again, this may prove a stumbling block. Japanese labels are believed to be strongly opposed to any pricing scheme that undercuts CD prices. Apple has built its ITMS business on doing just that - essentially positioning the CD as a premium product alongside the standard download offering - so it will be interesting to see if it manages to bring the equivalent of its 99c-per-track pricing to Japan.

Meanwhile, a number of Norwegian music publications have claimed local music industry insiders have confirmed Apple will open ITMS Norway later this month. Similarly, though from less well detailed sources, Apple may also be scheduling ITMS Australia's opening day toward the end of April.

Apple Japan recently opened a mobile phone version of its online hardware store, to sell iPods and Mac Minis. ®

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