A fifth of Macworld Online readers believe Apple is "exploiting" non-US customers with its lop-sided pricing policy.

Macworld Online asked: "What are your thoughts on the difference in pricing between Apple products in the US and elsewhere", a significant 17 per cent of voters said pricing discrepancies mean they "think twice before buying Apple".

There are big discrepancies between the pricing of Apple products in the UK and Europe and those levied in the US.
For example, in the US the new 12-inch PowerBook US is £419 cheaper. This price differential is magnified by the weak US dollar.

A third (34 per cent) of Macworld online readers say Apple isn't the only firm to charge more outside the US, and 18 per cent agree with Apple's defence that it has no control over currency and local taxes.

Macworld readers who admit that they go to the US to buy Apple kit (6 per cent) should beware – there are rumours that customs officials are on the look out for bargain-hunting foreign shoppers crossing the pond to purchase iPods and iPod minis.

Just 1 per cent of Macworld readers believe high shipping charges are to blame for the high prices.

Mini money maker Many readers point out that the UK launch of the iPod mini will be the proof of Apple's dedication to fair pricing in the UK.

One reader said: "It will be interesting to find out the UK price for the iPod mini – Cupertino has already publicly acknowledged there is an issue with this. We shall see what happens when they release the product outside the US."

iPod marketing manager Danika Clearly clarified the situation with the iPod mini: "We will set the international pricing – dependent on currency exchange – closer to when the product ships in April."

Readers don't hold out much hope for a price drop, however. One said: "The problem is the iPod mini is selling extraordinarily well in the US, and there is no reason to believe it won't sell equally well at £199 over here."

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff told Reuters: "Pricing on hard-drive players is still ruled by manufacturing costs – a fact that is preventing Apple and others from pricing portable devices more cheaply."

Looking up? Some readers note that the situation has improved. One said: "I'm satisfied that Mac prices are a lot nearer to US pricing than they were about ten years ago."

Another said: "Maybe the advent of the Apple Store in the UK will give them more direct feedback about the UK market, and will encourage them to change their pricing arrangements."

Rip-off Britain Apple certainly isn't the only company to charge more for its products in the UK than it does in the US. A BBC report suggests a number of reasons for higher prices in the UK. According to Gap spokeswoman Anita Borzyszkowska: "Retail premises are much more expensive, sales tax and local authority rates are higher as well."

Where UK shoppers pay 17.5 per cent tax on goods, the sales tax of US shoppers is approximately half that.

British Chamber of Commerce economist Andrew Beales doesn't think the US and UK markets can be compared. He said: "The US market is huge, and business benefits from this – the labour market is more competitive and business costs are lower."

And it's not only in comparison to the US that the UK suffers. A recent investigation by price-comparison Web site Pricerunner.co.uk found the UK is the fourth most expensive place to shop in Europe.