Yup, I’m having one of my “ahead of the curve” moments today. Feel free to reign me in with the realities and limitations of today’s technology, but I still think that Amazon is missing a huge opportunity when it comes to digital audio on the handset. […]


Yup, I’m having one of my “ahead of the curve” moments today. Feel free to reign me in with the realities and limitations of today’s technology, but I still think that Amazon is missing a huge opportunity when it comes to digital audio on the handset. As it stands now, you can purchase music directly from the Amazon MP3 store on a Google Android or Palm webOS device. And you don’t even need a fast Wi-Fi connection — on my Palm Pre, I’ve purchased whole albums over 3G once the client was updated to support that. But our phones ultimately have limited storage and there’s the whole sticky synchronization challenge that doesn’t need to be in the way, or tie music to a particular platform or device.

Although my initial thought on this was back in May, I expanded upon this solution in a recent piece over at our GigaOm Pro subscription service and while the technology may be lagging, the business model could easily be there. Amazon already has the storefront and a mobile client for purchases. Why can’t S3, Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, be my music library in the cloud where I could have near unlimited storage? From a cost perspective, it would take $6.70 to initially transfer and then store the music for a month, using currently available S3 pricing. To stream 3 GB in a month — more than most people would likely do — would be about a half-dollar, plus another $3 for the monthly storage. Amazon could even “hide” the transfer prices in the cost of MP3 files, much as they do for Kindle content.

Again, there’s the dratted technology limitation, which in this case is the required mobile web connection. Wi-Fi still isn’t everywhere and 3G won’t meet everyone’s needs either — there are still those pesky 5 GB monthly bandwidth caps, not to mention coverage gaps. But I think a non-persistent wireless connection could be mitigated by Amazon themselves. Slacker Radio for BlackBerry caches music in cases like that, so why couldn’t Amazon build the same functionality in a handset client? Like I said, they already have a client for purchases and transfers — adding a music player with caching ability is the next logical step to me.

The benefits are there — leaving behind physical phone storage limits, no more synchronizing, and having your entire music library available on potentially all of your devices. Does the idea have enough merit for the future?

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  1. Corey McLaughlin Thursday, December 3, 2009

    I wrote about the same thing not to long ago. Amazon is also missing the boat on their video on demand service by not getting Palm and Google to include the ability to play purchased content on their phones. I wish Amazon would wake up and realize there is money to be made here. It’s almost like nobody wants to go up against Apple in the sync’ing and content management of our purchased content.

    With Google and Palm going the direction of cloud services this is a natural next step. Clearly we can’t be the only ones who see this.

    1. Completely agree! Ironically, Amazon is already doing much of what I suggested above with their Video on Demand — just not on handsets. ;)

  2. This will only work when some form of wireless is everywhere and totally reliable. Until then it could only be a dream for us geeks. It’s kind of like turn by turn GPS. You can have a supscription service where you download maps as you need or you can have the maps on your device. The vast majority have chosen to have maps on the device and if you’ve ever used a GPS subscription service you’ll know why.

    I use Wunder Radio on my iphone to get my radio fix. But even in areas where I get perfect phone service I get dropouts for data. You don’t notice it with surfing the web but music/radio cutting in and out is a no no. I wouldn’t tolerate this with my music collection. Even worse when I couldn’t cache a song/album/playlist I wanted. If I want my music I want it NOW. Not in 5 minutes when it’s downloaded. Oh, and how would I use the shuffle function?

    Also there are too many places where wireless is not allowed. Planes, government offices, some work locations. You’ll still need to have a local copy available for these.

    Finally, how many people really have so much music/video that the “need” an unlimited storage. The ipod touch does 64GB and you know that’s going to double in 2010. Ipod classic is 160gb. And a netbook can store 500GB easily.

    It sounds great in theory but I’ll keep my music with me thanks.

  3. I know I commented on this in your other post, but the service best positioned to do what you are proposing is Lala.com. You can listen to any song once through for free. After that you can Add songs to you “listening library” (streaming only) for $0.10 OR buy the MP3 for $0.89 (which can be downloaded).

    Lala also offers an service whereby you more or less prove that you own a track by uploading it and you always have streaming access to it. You can’t download it, but your collection is basically in the cloud for listening.

    1. I forgot to mention that Lala is working on an Android app.

  4. Kevin, I totally agree and it kills me. Amazon could dominate in my opinion. They already have the online & mobile infrastructure in place to handle content distribution and they have stuff like S3 already in place. I don’t know what I’m missing but Amazon looks like they could EASILY do what services like Rhapsody, Napster and Mog are doing, also adding the ability to upload your own MP3s.

  5. You can just stream from your home computer (with something like simplify media for the iphone) or use spotify or rhapsody. The services are there even if theyre not called amazon

    1. No argument and I use those services. My point is that Amazon is missing a huge opportunity and conceding the market to these services. They also have the brand power to be a disruptive force in this space.

  6. Curtis Carmack Friday, December 4, 2009

    One of the reasons Amazon doesn’t do this is most likely because its agreements with the labels do not allow it. You’ll probably remember that this type of business model has been sued out of existence at least twice already. I would be very surprised if the major labels have sufficiently modernized their stance to allow a company as powerful as Amazon to do this. They tend to dabble with smaller players first, knowing they can easily squelch things if they “get out of hand,” or in other words have a negative impact on any existing business model.

    Here’s hoping all of this changes — and soon.

    1. Perhaps, but that doesn’t make sense to me at all. Today I can do this myself: buy digital music and stream it to my handset from home using Orb. Or I can store it in the cloud with SugarSync and again, stream it to a phone. The only difference is that Amazon would store the files, not me. Amazon could require you to sign in with your Amazon account to limit music sharing, but of course, they’re already selling DRM-free MP3 files, so it’s sort of a moot point.

      1. Kevin, I completely agree with you, but that difference — you storing and streaming vs. Amazon doing it for you — is exactly the basis on which the labels have previously killed businesses that performed these tasks. Amazon has a delicate relationship with the labels that it does not want to jeopardize. All that said, I do think the brains of the senior executives at most labels are beginning to thaw out, and I expect this type of “service” to get the seal of approval. It will, most likely, require an amendment to the existing agreements with Amazon.

  7. Corey McLaughlin Friday, December 4, 2009

    I know we are talking about MP3 cloud based storage, streaming and briefly mentioned Amazon Video on Demand, but the big picture in my opinion is the lack of management of our Amazon digital content. I believe it’s relevant based on the examples used, namely; Google, Palm, and Amazon all of which are embracing cloud based solutions.

    All parties involved want us purchasing more content than will fit on our devices. A unified solution for managing all this content is the missing piece of the puzzle. While I know techies like us know of ways to manually sync and store our purchases, I don’t see non-tech savvy people seeing those solutions as anything other than a mess and too big of a pain so way not stay within the iTunes eco-system.

    Amazon is in the best position at address this need with both Google and Palm using the Amazon MP3 store for OTA purchases, besides the fact they are number 2 in total digital content purchases behind Apple.

    We know Microsoft is addressing this shortcoming in WM 7 with Zune integration. It would be smart for Amazon, Google, and Palm to address this very soon or it will have a negative impact on their long term business. I would add this is not the only thing Google and Palm need to address in their handset designs, btw.

    This all comes down to an “out of the box” solution verses I can use this software/web service to listen and manage my content how I want, in my opinion.

  8. It would be nice to see 1 service that covers:
    a) music
    b) DVD content (movies and “tv seasons/archives”)
    c) current television shows

    with a full range of choices (for all 3 media types):

    1) Purchase and download, no ads, no DRM, open data file format (MP3, mpeg with common/open codec, etc.)
    2) Stream for free, with ads, option to cache for off-line access (strong DRM protection on the cache)
    3) Stream for subscription, no ads, option to cache (strong DRM protection on the cache)
    4) Stream for one-time paid viewing (ie. “Pay Per View”/”Renting”/”View on Demand”), no ads, option to cache (strong DRM protection on the cache)

    So, rather than Steve Jobs telling me that I don’t want to rent music, I only want to own it … I should be the one who chooses which of the music I listen to is purchased vs subscribed. The artist or production agent decides what options the content will be available in (pay per view for the first week, then streamed with or without cache for a few days, and then available for purchased download (and still streaming) after that? or some other combination). And then the consumer decides which time frame, expense, and format works best for them.

    With the streaming and cached viewing supporting not just Windows and/or iPhone. I want to see native client support for Windows, Mac, Linux (at least Ubuntu), iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile … and maybe even Maemo and Blackberry. Plus, flash clients for low quality viewing/listening on web browsers. I also want to see a set-top-box that will work with my TV. Let me watch/listen on my TV, my home ubuntu box, my work Macintosh, my ubuntu netbook (soon, my Android tablet/e-reader), or my Android or Maeemo phone.

    With the right channel coverage (for c), and a good solid library for a and b, I would gladly subscribe for casual listening/viewing … and still probably also purchase the ones that I want to keep. I could easily justify shifting my DirecTV and Rhapsody subscriptions over to such a service. I also wouldn’t need to upgrade my Tivo.

    All from the same rich archive of material, and the same subscription service: Watch shows or listen to music on my way to/from work, on my phone, netbook, tablet. Listen to music while I work, on my work computer. Watch movies or shows on my TV. Watch movies or shows on my home computer, or listen to music while I do other stuff. In any of those cases, if I decide something is a “keeper”, I purchase it for download. No more “I have it on my Tivo, but I can’t watch it on my train/bus commute to work”. Or “my phone doesn’t have Rhapsody, so I can’t look up and listen to random music on my commute”. Or “I can’t lookup and watch random movies, like I could with Rhapsody, because there isn’t really a comparable service for movies”.

    Amazon could probably easily provide a and b. They might need to partner with someone for c. And they already do #1 for music. Fill in the gaps. And then package it up with an easy to use “channels” and a channel guide (so you can surf and find interesting content, by genre, by actors/performers, by director/producer/composer/arranger, by writer, by year of release, by label/channel/studio, etc.). Maybe partner up with Pandora on the channels part, and develop a similar “DNA” concept for movies and TV shows, to apply the same algorithms that Pandora uses for music.

    Yup, I’d trade in DirecTV, Rhapsody, and Tivo for that. Gladly/quickly.

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