Apple to launch Russian iTunes Store with tracks under $0.99

Apple is planning to open an iTunes store in Russia later this year or early 2013, a local business journal reports. The Russian iTunes Store could offer music cheaper than in the US. While licensing deals are still underway, the Cupertino, Calif. digital music giant is expected to unveil tracks costing under $0.99, the newspaper says.

The supposed deal could prop up flagging Russian sales of digital music. While physical music sales are in free-fall, even digital music purchases — which have been growing elsewhere — dropped by 40 percent to levels not seen since 2009. The chief reason: “a culture of copyright infringement,” according to music industry group IFPI. The nation’s leading music service is operated by vKontakte, which also offers file-sharing, according to the IFPI.

Apple is also reportedly planning to open in 2013 Apple Stores in Moscow and St. Petersburg, providing Russian fans of the Cupertino, Calif. company a way to purchase iPhones and iPads directly, instead of through third-parties. In August, we reported that the company has named a Manager General for its “Apple Rus” operations, as well as registered the “Apple Rus” domain.

As in the case of helping faltering digital music sales, the Apple Stores in Russia hope to increase demand for smartphones and the iPhone. According to IDC, smartphone’s comprise just 25 percent of the Russian mobile market. In addition, the iPhone only represents nine percent of that tiny market.

Some of the fault for both low sales of digital music and iPhones could be placed at Apple’s doorstep.  For instance, a 16GB iPhone 4S could cost $930 (or 29,900 rubles), if purchased from Apple’s Russian carrier MTS. By comparison, an Android smartphone can be had in Russia for  about $150.

Apple is attempting to break out of its US/European-centric iTunes Store planning. After more than a decade, the company is reaching out to the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. In late 2011, Apple opened an iTunes Store in Brazil.

What do you think? Can an iTunes Store in Russia spark increased demand for the iPhone and iPad?