Blog Post

This is how you should buy music online

AlbumsWith the recent launches of Google (s GOOG) Music, Amazon (s AMZN) Cloud Player and iCloud (s AAPL), there has never been an easier time to buy a song. Each service is different, though, and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your phone, listening habits and geekiness, you are better off going with one service over another. Here is a handy guide to help you choose which service is best for you.

Do you own an iPhone? Are you a geek?

Then you should use Amazon Cloud Player. iTunes still sells their music in AAC format. This is different from MP3. Even though many devices play AAC, you are still safer buying an MP3 file. Plus, Amazon always has deals, and you can pick up many albums for $5. After you purchase a song, you can listen to it on Amazon’s Cloud Player website, but you’ll likely want to get it on your phone. Amazon has a nice app that auto-downloads purchased tunes and sticks them right into iTunes. From there, you can use the new iOS5 Sync over Wifi and transfer the song to your iPhone without much hassle.

Do you own an iPhone, but are not a geek?

You should use iTunes. You don’t care about AAC. Saving $5 on an album is not worth the extra steps getting it on your phone. iCloud makes it easy to download purchased songs on to all your devices and computers. Maybe you’ll even use Ping to tell your friends what you bought (just kidding!).

Should you pay $25 a year for iTunes Match?

That’s a tougher question because both geeks and non-geeks alike will find things to love and hate about Match. On the geeky side, you are thinking that a lot of your music was ripped poorly at a low bitrate and has skips in it. Paying $25 to convert to cleaner files with a higher bitrate is enticing. Of course, they are still AAC and it’s not like there is a nice website to go stream all this from. You’ll still be downloading manually and you may have more than 25,000 songs which means you are SOL with Match. For the rest of you non-geeks, it’s probably worth it. You don’t use Dropbox to transfer songs from one computer to another. You don’t care about AAC. You are not sure what syncing songs over Wifi means. Match makes it easier to listen to your music on your computer at home and at work. You should do it.

Do you own an Android?

If so, let’s eliminate iTunes. Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music offer great experiences getting music on your phone. You can purchase from right within the app. You can also purchase from the web and the music will be instantly available on your device for streaming. So which of the two should you use? You are probably better off using Amazon at this point. As with the Kindle, Amazon is a retailer that is committed to being on all devices. That means that the music you purchase on Amazon today will find its way on to many devices in the future. Will we see Cloud Player on the iPhone? Most likely, at some point. Will we see Google Music? Maybe. But if it’s as good as Gmail or any other Google apps on the iPhone, then it won’t be worth it anyway. Another reason to use Amazon is that you can easily download songs to your phone for offline listening. As an added bonus, the music you download is available in other apps — like games and such. Google Music allows you to “pin” music for offline listening but that music only will play within Google Music. As far as I can tell, you cannot access it from other apps. One thing Google Music has going for it is integration with Google+. It remains to be seen how effective that is, but the idea of sharing purchased songs with your friends is a step in the right direction. Music is social, and none of the above services have cracked that yet.

So there you have it. A helpful guide to purchasing music. We’ve come a long way and it sure is great to see three big companies competing on features and price. We are all better off for it. As for me? I mostly purchase from Amazon and Bandcamp with the occasional iTunes and now Google Music sprinkled in. I guess if you are an ultra music geek with many devices, that’s your best bet!

Dan Kantor is the CEO of exfm, a social music service, as well as an adjunct professor at NYU ITP. He spends his days listening to music and wrote this post after repeatedly being asked by friends the best ways to buy music today.

353 Responses to “This is how you should buy music online”

    • H. Murchison

      iTunes doesn’t have DRM anymore Dan so it would be trivial to convert songs to MP3 if needed. In reality this article could be summed up easily.

      1. Buy according to price.

      2. If you own Apple equipment buy iTunes Match and you’ll get all the benefits of the iTunes Store

      3. If you have hardware that “only” plays MP3 get rid of it. It’s crap.

      4. Even Geeks can comfortably buy from iTunes. The automatic syncing of my music, video and books to all of my iDevices is worth more than doing the whole Amazon shuffle. My time is a bit more precious than saving a few cents.

      5. Get Spotify and Rdio and enjoy millions of tracks of music

      • Vic Rattlehead

        Converting to MP3 is not hard but it’s an annoying PITA to do for everything you own. And then there’s the storage of it (you keeping two copies of every song?). No thanks. MP3 for the extendability across platforms.

        To Andre below, popularity has never been a very good measure of “good” (are you buying music according to Top 40?). iTunes is the most popular because iPods are the most popular MP3 players.


      If you have iTunes, you would know that you can convert any file to mp3 in a few seconds. There isn’t a music storing system better than iTunes. If there was, they’d be the most popular system to use. Also, portable music is played mostly on iPod’s or iOS devices, so the file type is pretty irrelevant.

      • John Foliot

        As an unrepentant and hapy Widows user, I can tell you with no uncertainty that iTunes for Windows is a horrid and frustrating experience. I was happy the day I deleted that mess from my system.
        I am now actually using a combination of Media Monkey/winamp and a cool app called subsonic to manage my extensive library (over 2 gig and counting). iTunes just doesn’t cut it

      • Both are lossy formats so every time you convert you lose more quality. The downside of buying in AAC (already lost some quality) then convert to MP3 is that it will be definition be lesser quality then if you bought it in MP3 initially.

  1. The amazon downloader errors constant on lion. If it corrupts the song you have to go through customer service to get the download again. Apple with the cloud is way easier and works much better the only advantage amazon has is price on the sales they do.