iTunes launches in India. And unlike the $1,000 iPhone, Apple’s selling these songs for a … song

December 4, 2012
December 4, 2012

Wait, does Apple suddenly care about India?

Today, iTunes began selling songs and movies in India for the first time. And unlike most Apple products in India, they’re actually affordable. Songs are about 22 cents, while albums are $1.76. (Americans pay 99 cents a song.) The company must surmount India’s notorious piracy to be competitive, and at prices like that, it actually has a shot. Its catalog boasts 500,000 songs and movies, including Bollywood and Tamil numbers, but no books or television shows yet.

Meanwhile, separate media reports today say retailers have sold out of the iPhone 5 and there’s a waiting period of 10 to 12 days to get one. The smartphone went on sale last month for a starting price of 45,500 rupees for the entry-level 16GB model ($894).

The warm reception for the iPhone 5 is noteworthy, a departure from versions previous. Price has been an obstacle to Apple’s growth in India, as has incompatibility with India’s telecommunications networks. But University of Washington business professor Shailendra Jain also calls Apple’s efforts in India a “marketing failure.” He writes:

What Apple as a brand means in the U.S. is very different from what Apple means in Asian countries. It was born in the U.S. and has produced a long line of successful “i” gadgets—iMac, iPod, iPad—whose branding is rooted in individuality. This is clever branding, and has been a good fit for an influential segment of the American and Western population: rebels, early adopters, would-be innovators who want cutting-edge technology and are relatively less sensitive to price. In Asian countries this is not such a strong fit, in terms of perceived personality. Asian cultures tend to be more collectivistic, and the theory is that millions of consumers in these cultures may find “i” less appealing than “we.”

So do reports of Apple’s twin successes today say more about the company’s grasp of an emerging market or India’s embrace of selfish materialism? We’re reserving judgment until we gauge the strength of that Bollywood selection.

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