Amazon’s MP3 download store has launched. Unlike the otherwise similar service from emusic.com, Amazon’s store features many of the big names that form the pop mainstream, from Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen to Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and John Lennon (but not the Beatles). There are still big gaps, but this is a significant initiative.
The big selling point is the songs are DRM-free. I never expected to see this. Even iPod/iTunes users may appreciate what this means. For example, virtually any mobile phone will play MP3 files, whereas DRM-encumbered AAC files are restricted to Apple’s expensive iPhone. Amazon has included an iTunes/Windows Media Player integration applet, which automatically updates your media library.
Most of the songs are 256 kbps vbr MP3 files – probably a little better quality than Apple’s 128 kbps AAC files, and cheaper than the iTunes store for DRM-free files where they exist. You cannot replace previously purchased files, so watch those backups, or maybe upload them to Amazon S3.
This strikes me as the first commercial competitor to iTunes that stands some chance of success. A bigger problem for the music industry is Illegal downloads and file-swapping. In theory Amazon’s service could make illegal music exchange worse, by providing more files to swap; but the executives have possibly concluded that since the dam has already burst, a few more drops of water will make little difference. It seems that promoting competition for Apple has become more important than DRM.
Will I buy? It’s more attractive than the iTunes music store; but I would still normally buy a CD and rip it, because I prefer music files without lossy compression. Actually, Amazon has cottoned on to this as well, and publishes a how-to guide:
After you’ve purchased a CD (say, from the Amazon Music Store), you can quickly and easily “rip” them, or copy them onto your computer, by using software such as Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft Windows Media Player.
The problem Amazon faces is the seamless experience offered by iPod/iTunes. Competing will not be easy, but this is a start. If it succeeds, it will help to promote alternative hardware as well. It’s all welcome news for users – but not yet internationally. Amazon’s MP3 store is in beta and restricted to the United States only.