Apple staged its own British invasion in London last week, announcing the opening of the iTunes Music Store in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. A pan-European iTunes store is expected to open in October to cover countries not involved in this week's launch, according to Apple.
The new online storefronts are accessible via the newly released iTunes 4.6 (which also adds support for July's release of Airport Express hardware and AirTunes software). A pop-up menu at the bottom of the iTunes Music Store home page takes you to the territory-specific store. Prices in the U.K. for individual songs are 0.79 pounds ($1.45 in U.S. funds) and 7.99 pounds ($14.68) for most new albums (which compares to between 9 and 10 pounds at Amazon.co.uk), while Germany and France offer 0.99 euros (a more economical $1.20) for songs and start at 9.99 euros ($12.10) for albums (compared to 12.99 euros in Germany and over 16 euros in France at Amazon.de and Amazon.fr, respectively).
As someone who buys an inordinate amount of music from Amazon.co.uk, I was frothing at the mouth to buy and download the latest B-sides from Ash at the U.K. iTunes Music Store. That dream died rather quickly with an error message, telling me my U.S. account was not valid for the U.K. store. Due to song licensing agreements, you can purchase music only from the country-specific iTunes Music Store where you have a credit card associated with a billing address. To create a new account, choose your territory's store via the country pop-up menu, then click the Account button. A Sign In dialog opens, from which you can create a new account or associate an account with an existing .Mac ID.
Apple claims 700,000 songs at launch for the three territories, but those come from the five major music labels. You will find lots of artists supported by global music label backing, such as Beastie Boys, Anastacia, and The Corrs. But there is a dearth of selection from independent labels - which are more pronounced in the U.K. where indies have a broader reach into the top of the pops than in the United States. Glancing at BBC's Top 40, the U.K. iTunes Music Store is missing quite a number of big albums, including Supergrass and Keane (the biggest album of the year in Britain, though the Music Store does provide two extended singles and an AOL live exclusive).
Some U.K. users have also complained about their version of the iTunes Music Store missing a significant number of artists that are available in the U.S. version, undoubtedly due to arcane licensing issues.
[Agen Schmitz is a freelance writer and editor, former Senior Editor in the Amazon.com Electronics Store, and all-around Britophile.]