The New York Times reports that a government regulator forced the closure of iBooks Store and iTunes Movies in China last week. The two services launched there in September, along with Apple Music (which is still available).
The shutdown was ordered by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), which oversees content in those mediums.
TechCrunch has contacted Apple for comment. The company told the New York Times in a statement that, “We hope to make books and movies available again to our customers in China as soon as possible.”
As the report points out, this may mark a turnaround for Apple’s business in China, since it has been given an unusual amount of freedom for a foreign tech company. As a result, Apple has been able to turn the country into its second-largest market after the United States. This has been mainly driven by iPhone sales and iOS app revenue, but Apple is also keen to sell software services, like Apple Pay and its entertainment stores, to the country’s consumers. In fact, China, which is already the No. 2 market for iOS revenue, may overtake the U.S. in terms of app revenue this year if its current growth rate is allowed to continue.
At the same time, Apple is still subject to scrutiny. For example, Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, recently said during a Congressional subcommittee meeting that the company refused a request from the Chinese government to access the iPhone’s source code.
Furthermore, Apple is one of the eight U.S. tech giants named in 2014 by China’s state media as a “guardian warrior,” or companies that have a big enough influence on the country’s information infrastructure to warrant extra attention (the other seven are Cisco, IBM, Google, Qualcomm, Intel, Oracle and Microsoft).
The closure of iBooks and iTunes Movies in China, however, may be primarily a business issue instead of cybersecurity one. The SARFT and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, recently announced a new set of broad regulations designed to make it more difficult for companies with foreign owners to publish online content.
Among other restrictions, they require foreign companies to find a domestic partner in addition to receiving government approval. This means Chinese Internet leaders like Tencent (which already runs the country’s largest online book business), Baidu and Alibaba would have less competition. That doesn’t mean they get a free ride, however — all three are also under stringent government control.