At long last, Apple appears to be approaching a launch date for iTunes in Russia — and it could come as soon as tomorrow. A tipster has forwarded us an email, in Russian, inviting a small group of people to an iTunes event in Moscow on the evening of December 4. The email does not give much away, simply noting that team iTunes will be holding a musical evening, and that it’s a small, invitation-only affair, at one of the city’s swanky shopping centers, GUM, located on Moscow’s Red Square.
The email was sent out by one of Apple’s PR people in the country, Irina Efremova. We have contacted Apple to ask about the event and will update this post as we learn more.
People have been anticipating a launch of iTunes in Russia for some time now. It was originally planned for the October of this year, and then delayed to November, according to sources cited by the RIA Novosti Russian news agency from November 20. That report had also said the launch was now “delayed indefinitely.”
If that report was true, then the event being held tomorrow could just be something to whet people’s appetite for what’s coming next. Or it could mean that “indefinite” really does have an end point.
Russia has long been one of Apple’s blind spots for its music service.
On the one hand it has huge potential: figures from GP Bullhound in April noted that Russia was already Europe’s biggest Internet market, at 53 million users. But with a monthly growth rate of about 14% (compared to 6% on average in Europe) that figure will be even bigger at this point.
Added to this, digital music has already proven to be very popular in the country, with companies like Yandex offering music services, and Opera just the other day making Russia the first market for its own foray into selling digital tracks.
Offering iTunes music could also help Apple push its bread and butter business of hardware. Android-based devices are the most popular smartphones in the country — with iPhone just at 2% penetration, according to one estimate I’ve heard — but there is a lot of opportunity to grow that. Smartphone penetration was only 15.4% in Q1 2012 and it’s expected to be 60% by the end of 2014, according to estimates from mobile operator MTS.
But on the other hand, Russia presents big challenges. The country is notorious for music piracy, with the Intellectual Property Alliance naming Russia as one of its worst offenders when it comes to illegal, unauthorized content. One of the big delays for Apple in launching iTunes has apparently been negotiations with music labels over rights for the store.
Nevertheless, content has been trickling through in drips and drabs. 9to5 Mac had in November reported that some people were already starting to be able to search for some music tracks in the Russian version of the App Store. These tracks are being sold for significantly less than they are in U.S. and other markets, with prices ranging between $0.35 and $0.65, compared to $0.99 in the U.S.