Music, apps, and games are cheaper in the South African iTunes Store

Last year when Apple launched music in the iTunes Music Store, the exchange rate was around R8.50 to the American dollar. As such, Apple’s average price of R8.99 for single music tracks seemed about in line.

Since then, things have changed a bit – and for once, they’re in our favour.

In 2009 Apple changed the music pricing policy on the iTunes store, moving away from its universal 99c price for tracks, to something the record labels were happier with. Popular tracks, or tracks from certain artists, were priced at $1.29. Meanwhile, cheaper tracks – presumably for artists whose labels didn’t demand more money – were priced at 69c. All regular content would still be made available at the regular 99c tier – which is still the lowest price an app developer can set, before going free.

In rand terms, those price tiers would – at today’s exchange rate – be R7.19, R10.30, and R13.45. But a quick look at the South African iTunes Store paints a different, more affordable picture.

There are only two price tiers: R6.99 for cheaper tracks, and R8.99 for those that are more recent, or just in demand. As a result, this benefits every South African using the local iTunes Store. It’s only 20 cents here, and R4.50 there, but that all adds up. Besides, full album pricing is also different.

Let’s take, for example, the latest Arcade Fire album, Reflektor. In the American store a single track from this album commands the premium $1.29 pricetag. Buy the album in its entirety and you’ll pay $11.99 – $2 more than the standard $9.99 for albums on the iTunes store. In the South African store the single tracks cost R8.99 and the entire album can be had for R89.99.

Then there’s the comedy option of going to your local or any online music shop, and paying R229.99 for the same album. Plus you’ll have to make space for that CD after ripping it to your computer.

There are other examples, too. The newest Arctic Monkeys album, AM, costs R69.99. Or you could fork out $9.99 in the American iTunes store. Alternatively, it’s R109 at a local online retailer, excluding shipping. An extreme example would be The Music of Grand Theft Auto V, a three-volume compilation of tracks from the hit video game. In the South African store it is available for R149.99. Pop on over to the US store, and it’s a whopping $24.99. Beatles Box Set? R1 099.99 for 14 albums and two video documentaries. The US store gets it for $149.

The savings extend beyond the music section of the iTunes Store, though. Apps and games can also be had for less. There, the nominal price is R7.99 for a game that would cost 99c in the US store. And that scales upwards: hack and slash fun fest, Infinity Blade III costs R56.99 locally, or $6.99 in the US store. Bashing blocks in Minecraft: Pocket Edition is also cheaper if you have a local account, at the same price as Infinity Blade. Local favourite, Snailboy, is R15.99 here, or $1.99 in the US. Even in-game content for those freemium titles is cheaper. CSR Classics, a fun drag racing title for car nuts, is free to download but will let you spend real money to progress faster in the game. The game’s cheapest gold coin packs cost $2.99, $4.99, and $9.99. Locally they’re a bit less, at R24.99, R39.99, and R79.99, respectively.

Small differences, but enough to not bother with the hassle of hanging on to a US account for much longer.

Before music became available many people were intent on registering American iTunes accounts to get access to music and games (the South African store only gained both of those in the last year). The American store didn’t accept South African credit cards, though, so those who registered accounts had to rely on getting gift cards from the dozen or so sites offering them. Pay $110 and you got a $100 gift card mailed to you, $28 got you a $25 card, and so on. Those sites tacked on a small service fee for the convenience, and it ultimately just made your purchases more expensive. But it was the only way, so that’s what people did.

For once, being a South African pays. The most outspoken people always like to point out how we don’t get nice things in South Africa, and love pointing out that Apple gear is overpriced compared to what it costs in the US. They’ll probably still find some reason to hang onto an American account – there’s likely a handful of obscure apps or artists that aren’t available locally. Hardly reason enough to continue trading in gift cards and losing out on pricing. Meanwhile, the masses who are happy with the local store will continue enjoying lower prices, as well as the simplicity that Apple originally envisaged for the purchasing process.

Now, who’s going to set up a store selling those South African gift cards to those Americans who’ll soon be looking for a few digital bargains?


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