Apple Computer today (Dec. 6) launched iTunes Music Store in New Zealand. The new service becomes the 22nd iTunes Music Store in the world, and arrives as the tenth legitimate download site in New Zealand.

Single tracks cost NZ$1.79 (US$1.21) each, and most albums are NZ$17.99 ($12.20). Music videos are priced at NZ$3.59 ($2.45) and games are NZ$7.99 ($4.80). The site also has free podcasts from international and local TV and radio stations.

With two million tracks, iTunes has "the largest catalog of local and international music in New Zealand", declares Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of iTunes.

Its catalog includes leading New Zealand acts such as Crowded House, Shihad, Tim Finn, Bic Runga, Fat Freddy's Drop, Brooke Fraser, the Datsuns and the Black Seeds.

Until now, New Zealand consumers could buy content from iTunes only via a U.S.-based credit card. Sales of digital music -- from sites such as Digirama.co.nz, Ampheadmusic.com, coketunes.co.nz and Jiggy.co.n -- are less than 1% of the recorded music pie in New Zealand, say retail and label executives.

iTunes' arrival in neighboring Australia in October 2005 sparked a 306% rise in digital to A$12.2 million ($9.5 million) in just six months, according to the Australian Recording Industry Association.

Adam Holt, Auckland-based managing director of Universal Music New Zealand, predicts a significant "iTunes effect" next year in New Zealand.

Holt tells Billboard.biz, "For Universal we're pleased we can now finally offer our customers a broad range of options to purchase music legally in NZ - on CD, mobile and now both flavours of online sales - iTunes and WMA based stores. This complete solution will take us from strength to strength."

Holt adds, "We've delivered our full NZ catalog to iTunes including our classics and jazz titles. iTunes arrival marks the first time classical products will be available digitally in New Zealand."

The Recording Industry Assn. of New Zealand has pledged to speed up plans to include digital sales in its weekly Top 40 single chart.

Digirama co-founder Shaun Davis says Apple's branding and marketing could make iTunes the highest traffic site -- but notes that in territories such as Germany, iTunes is not No. 1.

iTunes NZ comes a week after retail chain Dick Smith Electronics launched download service Ripit.co.nz. Consumers can buy vouchers from NZ$5 - NZ$50 through the retailer's physical stores, appealing to under-18s who cannot get credit cards. "That's a huge market that's missing out," says Ripit's Auckland based development manager Paul Fuimaono.

Telecommunications companies Telecom and Vodafone's music stores in New Zealand do not require credit cards either; their customers pay from their cellphone accounts.