Amazon MP3 vs. Apple iTunes: Where Should You Shop?

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.

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