78 Comments

Summary:

Amazon (AMZN) has just announced that the beta version of its MP3 download store is live. The company claims it has 2 million DRM free songs, each priced from 89 cents to 99 cents. More than 1 million of the 2 million songs are priced at […]

Amazon (AMZN) has just announced that the beta version of its MP3 download store is live. The company claims it has 2 million DRM free songs, each priced from 89 cents to 99 cents. More than 1 million of the 2 million songs are priced at 89 cents. The top 100 best-selling songs are 89 cents, unless marked otherwise. Most albums are priced from $5.99 to $9.99. OK. Time to try this out and see if Amazon can make me switch from Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes store. Hypebot has a great post about what the store is, and what it isn’t. And that is why I am going to just stick to a head-to-head, hands-on comparison, which follows below the fold.


Find some obscure music test:

Given that Amazon has most of the popular albums, I decided to run a test on obscure music and do a head-to-head using albums/tracks that are sitting in my shopping cart on the iTunes store, just to see if I can actually get a better DRM deal on the Amazon MP3 store.

Hotel Costes X: Not available on Amazon MP3 store

Dimitri From Paris’ Cocktail Disco: Not available on Amazon MP3 store

Breathing Under Water by Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale: Yes, for $8.99

Federico Aubele, Panamericana: Yes, for $8.99

Keren Ann, La Biographie De Luka Philipse: Yes, for $8.99, $11.99 on iTunes

Dorfmeister & Madrid De Los Austrias, Grand Slam: Yes for $6.23, vs $7.99 on iTunes

Dust Galaxy, Singles: Yes, 99 cents each, same as iTunes

Night Over Rio, Various Artists: Not available on Amazon MP3 store

Bitter:Sweet: The Remix Game: Yes, $8.99

I bought four albums, and saved $8, which works out to about $45 in lost revenues for Apple. In short, I will be checking in with the Amazon MP3 store before spending the dollars with Apple. I give Amazon a 7 out of 10 for this part of the test.

Discovery & Search:

Amazon beats Apple hands down on search, but discovery of music is still a work in progress. I bet as we buy more from them, the recommendation system will make discovery of “like music easier.” This is Apple’s Achilles heel. I give Amazon a 4 out of 10 here.

User Interface:

The Amazon MP3 store is a mess. There, I said it! Sure there are navigation options and ways of finding music, but compared to the iTunes store, it takes forever to find music you really want. There are way too many options to click and sometimes that can be distracting. However if you get past that, then the click-and-download part is fairly simple, and as easy to use as the iTunes store. I give Amazon a 4 out of 10 here.

Download Process:

You need a special downloader (both Mac and PC are supported) in order to download files. You click and a file with extension .amz is downloaded to your computer. Double-click and the album/single starts to download using the Amazon downloader. It is a process eMusic fans are quite used to, though for iTunes people, it is an unnecessary extra step. Amazon getsa 3 out of 10 here. iTunes is brain-dead simple.

Music Quality:

256 kbps and DRM free. Need we say more. 8 out of 10 for Amazon.

Bottom line: 26 out of 50. I am not ready to write Amazon off just yet. We might have a worthy competitor, willing to lose a lot of money to attract customers. The Mp3 format files are awesome, and I think it makes sense for everyone to browse the Amazon store before hitting the “buy” button on iTunes.

  1. Another service like the iTunes Store completely worthless to the majority of Internet users…i.e. those outside the United States.

    emusic.com is the only worthwhile one I’ve come across not completely neutered by geographical restrictions.

    If the music industry wants to stop the withering, they’re going to have to wake up to the fact that USA is a dwindling portion of the worldwide web audience.

    Share
  2. Are they tagging the MP3’s with your personal information? At least with iTunes I know that other people are looking for the tokens to remove.m and have the appropriate tools to erase that information.

    Also, I’m in Canada.

    Share
  3. Saving money and DRM free will be a big enough draw to most people to get them to switch. Hopefully Amazon throws some big marketing dollars behind this program.

    Share
  4. Om, I have to say, you have kickass taste in obscure music.

    I agree that emusic seems like it would be a better apples/apples comparison because it sells MP3s even though it has a subscription model instead of a pay-per-track model.

    Share
  5. Damn, I bought the Remix Game on iTunes two weeks ago! Om, a question — Why doesn’t Apple have these same songs available in non-DRM iTunes Plus format? How did Amazon beat Apple to the punch in unrestricted files?

    Share
  6. “You need a special downloader (both Mac and PC are supported) in order to download files. (snip) It is a process eMusic fans are quite used to, though for iTunes people, it is an unnecessary extra step.”

    Hmmm, it seems to me that to download from the iTunes store you have to install a sluggish 35MB Application (everyone seems to forget this) vs a nice lightweight app from emusic and Amazon. I agree that iTunes is chimp simple to use, but let’s not forget that to browse the store itself, we are forced to use iTunes. eMusic and Amazon’s downloader do one thing and do it well.

    Thanks for the review, enjoyed your perspectives.

    Share
  7. “256 kbps and DRM free. Need we say more. 8 out of 10 for Amazon.”

    Wow, what do you require for a 10/10 in this category?

    Share
    1. I imagine for a 10/10 you’d need to be like Trent Reznor and NIN: that is, offer all downloads in Lossless, WAV, and MP3 formats. Of course, it would be unfeasible to do that now in 2009, but in a few years when terabyte drives are cheap, I expect that this will become more common as a way of competition.

      Share
  8. You don’t need the downloader application to buy the mp3s. You can skip the install and download the music directly to your file system if you chose. You do lose the synching function. This makes it the first real big time music store that serves the Linux community, although you can do this with Windows or MacOS as well. You buy an MP3 and download it, no strings. No proprietary aps, nothing. Just a fresh un-DRM’d mp3 file. Awesome. iTunes will have to match this experience. Amazon will effectively de-couple iPods from iTunes if they get more labels on board. Killer.

    Share
  9. I’m still disappointed by their format choices of 1. If I buy a music file, I want it to be of the same sound quality as a CD, if not better. That means lossless formats, a choice of 256kbps mp3, wma lossless, aac lossless, and variable bitrate mp3s would be nice. Then again, that might confuse most consumers.

    Share
  10. Nice review.. but “brain-dead simple”. Kind of an unfortunate expression.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post