Durban - Regular readers of this column will know one of my frequent gripes is how South Africans are treated like third class netizens by the big online providers of physical goods and digital media.
I’m happy to report that in recent months that’s started to change for the better, with the pace really picking up in the last week or two.
A huge development was Apple’s announcement last Tuesday that its iTunes store is now open for business in 56 new countries, South Africa among them.
Yes, phone maker Nokia has been offering music downloads to owners of its handsets for several years and Simfy introduced legal music streaming to Mzansi with its launch at the end of August. But the entry of iTunes into the market is a game-changer.
With more than a million iPhones, iPads and iPods estimated to be in circulation owned by the very consumers most likely to shell out for digital music, this country is likely to be a lucrative source of income for the already fabulously wealthy Apple.
And remember, you don’t need an iDevice to use iTunes – it runs on a Mac or Windows computer too.
But the entry of iTunes into the local market is great news, even if you have no intention of buying from the music store. That’s because other global online players you would be keen to see set up shop locally will view Apple’s decision as a vote of confidence in South Africa and many will follow suit.
Amazon’s online store has already expanded the range of goods it is prepared to ship to South Africa from books (both electronic and physical), Kindle e-book readers, DVDs and CDs to a much longer list that includes watches, sports gear, shoes, consumer electronics, jewellery, tools and toys.
And big local bricks and mortar retailers who’ve been slow to open fully fledged online stores – most of their websites are really just clunky online catalogues – are starting to sit up and take notice, with Dion Wired recently relaunching its drastically revamped online store.
Back to the iTunes store. I haven’t had a chance to explore its digital aisles fully but at first glance it seems you’ll shell out around R9 to buy an individual song and R90 for an album.
I’m sure it will come as no shock to hear that the number one song spot is held by Gangnam Style, but I was pleasantly surprised the day I visited to see that the number one album was SA Idols winner Khaya “PK” Mthethwa’s debut album, For You.
There didn’t appear to be a huge selection of local artists, but this should improve in the coming weeks and months.
The iTunes in the Cloud service lets you download all the music you buy from iTunes to all your iDevices at no additional cost, while for R199 a year iTunes Match will let you upload all your electronically stored music – even, horror of horrors, pirated tracks, no questions asked – to iCloud for streaming access at any time, from any iOS device. It’s the digital music version of a money-laundering scheme and all perfectly legal and sanctioned by the music industry.
Noticeably absent from the SA iTunes store are any movie or TV series downloads. Most of the games available in the US store are also missing. My sources assure me it’s all coming, probably sometime next year.
I was originally told they would be available this year, with the music, but our arcane and costly licensing and classification red tape has obviously proved more onerous than expected.
I suppose you can’t have it all. Something to look forward to in the new year, then. - Sunday Tribune