Sunday, June 1, 2008

iTunes: How It Differs Across the World

Searching through iTunes recently I discovered that users may change the country the store is tailored to, simply by choosing from a list of a dozen or so nations in a menu at the bottom of the page. I ended up visiting the home page for most of the possible options, curious as to the variety of artists that I would find topping the charts. Soon I realized there were more points of differentiation than musical taste alone.

Some countries, like the U.S. have free tracks available for download each week. This offer seems to be only in English-speaking countries (the U.K., Australia, and Canada), with the notable exceptions of France and Japan. Why of all the EU nations France is the only one deemed worthy of free music is an interesting question to ponder. Tracks are by far the cheapest in the U.S. and Canada—all other countries pay at least $1.60. Japan is most expensive, with most songs costing 200 yen, or about $2. As a sidenote, Japan’s store is the only one to use non-Roman characters; songs that do show up in English are displayed using a presumably easy-to-read, bitmap-type font.

Not surprisingly, the music that tops the charts across the world varies greatly. Using the U.S. as a benchmark (for the sole reason that American music is so popular and well-distributed), one finds Canada mirrors American taste almost exactly, whereas other countries have just a handful of tracks in common.

Australia’s top ten, for example, resembles the American chart of 3-4 months ago, with songs like Florida’s Low and Finger Eleven’s Paralyzer. Europe’s charts range from the intensely nationalistic Mediterranean nations of Italy and Spain (each of which had 5/10 domestic tracks) to the more open France and Germany (only 1 out of 10 homegrown). Europe in general proved itself more willing to experiment with music beyond American pop, with songs from across Europe being equally popular. Sweden’s chart was the most generically (that is, by genre) uniform, with most of the top 10 being dance tracks. Expectedly, Japan’s chart is heavily Japanese, with only two English-language tracks languishing near the bottom.

The most popular songs across the world (in late May 2008) were Madonna’s 4 Minutes (appearing in every list but Japan’s) and Estelle’s American Boy (feat. Kanye West), which was popular just about everywhere except, ironically, America.

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