HITS Daily Double


Jobs-San’s iTunes Music Store Opens in Its 20th Country with a Roar; Is Sony Sore?
It’s on.

When Apple’s iTunes Music Store launched in Japan last week, the Cupertino, California computer maker/digital music paradigm-shifter made more than a big splash, selling a million downloads in just four days. And they did it without one of Japan’s leading music companies on board: Sony.

Japan brings to 20 the number of countries in which Apple is selling music via local versions of its iTunes store, and that total accounts for 85% of the global music market, the company claims. And in getting to a million tracks sold in its first week of operations in Japan, Apple more than doubled the roughly 450k songs Sony’s online music store sells there in a month.

Maybe that’s why Sony, so far anyway, hasn’t come to the iTunes Japan party. The iPod and accompanying iTunes software has been wildly popular in Japan for some time, but now Apple’s iTunes Music Store has added substantially to the fervor, certainly stealing some of Sony’s thunder and possibly causing the company to lose face in the eyes of the public.

Indeed, Apple’s early win in Japan without Sony content is significant because Sony has some of the most popular Japanese artists on its roster, and most of the iTunes music being sold there is Japanese.

Think of Sony as Godzilla, who has always claimed Tokyo (and greater Japan) as his rightful “stomping grounds.” But here comes Mothra (Apple), to do monster-battle with Godzilla on his home turf. The question now is whether the people will be so enchanted by the singing twins (iTunes and iPod) that they forget to tell Mothra to return to Monster Island and leave Godzilla alone.

Additional theories abound as to why Sony’s music divisions haven’t signed on. One such scenario holds that Sony still hopes to trump Apple in the long run with its own digital-music hardware, which it has been slow to bring to market and has been hampered by Sony’s attempt to establish its own proprietary DRM-protected file-format standard. It has since backed away from that stance and made its hardware compatible with MP3 files. (iTunes/iPod will create and play MP3 files, but music from the iTunes music store is sold in a DRM-protected AAC format.)

Another theory holds that Sony and its Sony BMG entertainment division in the U.S. have been using their entertainment content in a bargaining chip in trying to persuade Steve Jobs into entering into some sort of retail partnership with the electronics/software giant, a proposal which the Apple chief has reportedly (and not surprisingly) resisted. Those who follow Apple’s moves would note that historically, the company isn’t fond of partnerships or making its systems interoperable with others.

Still another theory is that SBMG execs were too busy exchanging email with program directors to iron out the details of a deal with Apple in time for the Japan launch. And still another is that SBMG head Andrew Lack was so preoccupied with lending pal Eliot Spitzer a hand that he just didn’t have time to work something out with Jobs. But those are just theories. Idle, unsubstantiated theories and speculation that we simply can’t condone.

Will Sony relent and release its music for sale through the iTunes store under the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” theory, or will the company hang tough and fight the uphill battle to compete with Apple? Is there a deal to be made between the two giants? Stay tuned.