Beijing: Apple’s book and movie online stores have been blocked in China, less than seven months after they began operations on the mainland, in the highest-profile scalp since authorities imposed new restrictions on online publishing.
Users in mainland China seeking to access the iTunes Movies and iBooks Store were met with a message saying the services “cannot be used”.
The stores were ordered to close by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources.
“We hope to make books and movies available again to our customers in China as soon as possible,” Apple said in a statement.
The suspension appears to affect only users with Apple accounts registered in mainland China, accounts registered in overseas countries are still able to access the services from within China.
It represents a fresh blow to Apple’s ambitions in China, already facing softening demand for its smartphones amid stiffening competition in its second-largest market.
In the short-term, however, the damage to Apple’s bottom line is expected to be marginal given its services were a relative new entrant and lagged far behind more popular mainland streaming services, where content is heavily screened by mainland regulators.
The Chinese government introduced new rules last month banning foreign ownership and joint ventures in online publishing and stipulating all content be stored on servers in China. The move has sparked fear of greater curbs on foreign businesses.
Earlier this month, the United States labelled China’s internet censorship a trade barrier, saying that worsening online restrictions were damaging the business of US companies.
Amid an environment of tightening controls on the internet and media on the mainland, analysts have interpreted the moves as aimed at both filtering the content which reaches Chinese viewers, while also boosting the fortunes of local Chinese online and tech players.
“China must improve management of cyberspace and work to ensure high-quality content with positive voices creating a healthy, positive culture that is a force for good,” official news agency Xinhua quoted President Xi Jinping as saying this week.
The shutdown is understood to have occurred as early as last week, but emerged on Friday as users in China tried to view the controversial Hong Kong film Ten Years when it became available on Apple’s stores in Hong Kong.
The independent film, which won the top gong at the Hong Kong Film Awards earlier this month, polarised opinion for its dystopian portrayal of the city being overrun by mainland China in 2025.
Interest in mainland China saw internet users mistakenly download a 2011 Hollywood romantic comedy of the same name. The US film, with lukewarm reviews and starring Channing Tatum, shot to the top of download rankings of various popular foreign movie download sites in mainland China.