It’s no secret that Apple and Steve Jobs dominate the digital music player business and it’s also no secret that the iTunes store pretty much dominates the digital music business. One could even argue that Steve started the digital music revolution with near flawless execution and creating an almost impenetrable fortress with iTunes, the iPod and the iTunes music store. Everyone that tried to compete in this space has failed to make a serious dent in Apple’s armor. This due largely to the iPod being a closed system that only works with a few audio formats and and ONE music store. Most DRM (Digital Rights Managed) solutions from competitors not being compatible also makes them less attractive. However, at the heart of the iPod, it’s an MP3 player! So if you have an MP3 file you’re all set.
Steve even made a very compelling argument against DRM (if you buy an audio CD it doesn’t have DRM protection on it) and EMI blazed the trail by offering tracks that are DRM free on iTunes for $1.29. That’s right for 30Â¢ more than the standard 99Â¢/track you can purchase a song in AAC format that is free from DRM protection. This means this track will play on your iPod, your computer and any other device that can play AAC files including competing music players. You could even convert the track into other formats. This is great! However, if you want a song not in the EMI catalog, you’re pretty much out of luck or if you want to play that song on a player that doesn’t support AAC you’ll have to convert it to a different format first. So it would seem that Apple is unstoppable in the music business. Had you asked me this last week I would have said that "Apple is very hard to beat at this music thing. They get it!" That all changed for me yesterday!
I kept seeing the headlines that Amazon.com started selling DRM free tracks and I really didn’t pay much attention to this. After all we’ve seen online music stores come and go and so why would this be any different? Also in the past attempts to unseat Apple, the stores were either not compatible with the iPod or not compatible with the Mac which was a complete turn off for me. Then I saw one more headline about Amazon MP3 and happened to notice something I didn’t notice the first 100 times and that was "in MP3 format!" Woah! Wait a minute! This is game changing! MP3 is the most widely accepted digital music standard. So If I can buy a track that is DRM free in MP3 format then that means it will work on just about anything.
So I headed over to Amazon MP3 and decided to give this new music store a shot. I was floored not only by how easy it all worked, but also by the PRICE! Amazon’s DRM free MP3 tracks average between 89Â¢-99Â¢. I found a track that I wanted (it was 99Â¢) and I clicked the Buy button expecting the world to explode. I was prompted to download a "downloader" app and low and behold it was for the Mac (it detected my platform automatically). Once I downloaded the downloader, Safari (my browser) fired back up and took me right back to the song I was buying (Party Starter by Will Smith). I bought it and then something else pretty amazing happened. The song downloaded neatly to my Music folder in a newly created Amazon MP3 folder and like iTunes it organized the song by Artist, then Album then Track.
This was all going so well that I decided to go for broke. I opened iTunes and simply dragged the song over to my library and it imported it. Not only did it import it, but it automatically downloaded the Album Art for me. Thanks iTunes! (Note: The downloader is supposed to add the track to iTunes automatically by default. For some reason that didn’t happen for me on this first purchase. I’ll try it again later.)
Amazon only has 2 million tracks as opposed to iTunes’ 6 million tracks. However, the Amazon collection of DRM free tracks is MUCH larger than the EMI collection on iTunes.
Apple should be afraid, very afraid! This is the first SERIOUS competition that they’ve had. The service not only works with their iconic iPods/iPhones, but it’s also CHEAPER! The song I downloaded was in MP3 format which many would argue doesn’t sound as good as AACs from the iTunes store. However, it was sampled at 256kbps which should be very close if not on par to the DRM protected tracks you’d buy from iTunes which are at 128kbps at the same price. The iTunes DRM tracks cost more, but they are sampled at 256kbps in AAC format which probably sound better. So if you’re an audiophile, then the iTunes tracks are probably going to sound a bit better to you. For me, I’d have to weigh the cheaper price and more compatible format of Amazon’s MP3′s. That coupled with
Amazon Unbox service which allows me to rent movies and download them directly to my TiVo HD, iTunes is starting to slip a little (ok a lot) off that pedestal. Yes, there is a new contender Apple and they’re gunning for you! Apple, unless you match Amazon’s price, why would I buy any new music from you? Competition is good! This move by Amazon will benefit us (customers) the most.