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Media store wars: iTunes vs Amazon vs Google Play

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Updated. Google now activates one million Android devices per day and has 400 million devices in the wild, but its media store efforts have lagged. Compared to Apple’s iTunes(s aapl) and Amazon’s(s amzn) various storefronts, Google Play has played second fiddle.

Yesterday at its Google I/O event, the company announced more content options, so I decided to compare Google Play against the two incumbents. So how does Google now fare, considering it introduced the Nexus 7; an Android 4.1 tablet that’s optimized for Google Play?

I did a similar analysis in October, only then it was to see how Samsung fared against Apple and Amazon, and decided to take the same approach here with Google. Here’s what I found when looking at the most popular movies, TV shows, music albums, starting first with music.

Amazon sounds cheaper while Google Play has some dead air

Album iTunes Amazon Google Play
Living Things $11.99 $4.99 NA
Overexposed (Deluxe) $12.99 $4.99 $12.49
MMG Presents: Self Made V.2 $12.99 $11.99 NA
Believe (Deluxe) $14.99 $12.99 $14.49
PTX, Vol 1. $5.99 NA NA
Welcome to the Fishbowl $11.99 $11.99 $11.99
Write Me Back (Deluxe) $11.99 $11.99 $11.99
Rock of Ages $12.99 $9.49 $9.49
Days Go By $10.99 $10.99 $10.99
If You Were a Movie… $4.99 $4.99 NA

Amazon offers the most “bang for buck” here, although prices can vary by the day. Just this morning, a George Harrison album on my wish list, for example, dropped from $9.99 to $2.99 and I bought it. In terms of the top 10 — again, using iTunes as a baseline — Amazon has 9 of 10 while Google is batting .600 with four strikes. Of course, this is just a narrow view; when casually browsing all three stores for music that I like, they’re generally equal although Google is still either missing a few.

Google at the movies isn’t bad

Movie iTunes Rent/Buy Amazon Rent/Buy Google Play Rent/Buy
21 Jump Street $4.99/$17.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$12.99
Wrath of the Titans $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/NA
Mirror Mirror $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$14.99
Project X $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/NA
Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/NA
Wanderlust $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$14.99
Safe House $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$14.99
Act of Valor $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$14.99
A Thousand Words $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/NA
Big Miracle $4.99/$19.99 $4.99/$14.99 (SD only) $3.99/$14.99

Google fares a little better here although it still lacks the breadth of content provided by iTunes and Amazon when looking at the current top 10. But like Amazon, Google Play offers lower prices than those found in the iTunes store. When the family wants to watch a movie, I’ve turned to iTunes in the past — mainly because we have an Apple TV. For my own consumption on a tablet or phone, however, I’ve been fine with Google Play. Amazon doesn’t support movie playback on any phones or tablets save its own Kindle Fire, so I rarely look there. Update: The original comparison showed Amazon with SD movie rental pricing, which was incorrect as pointed out by readers. The current table shows the HD movie rentals.

Don’t look for recent TV shows on Google

TV Show iTunes Amazon Google Play
Pretty Little Liars $2.99 $2.99 NA
Real Housewives of Orange County $2.99 $2.99 NA
Keeping up with the Kardashians $2.99 NA NA
Dance Moms $2.99 $2.99 NA
The Legend of Korra (ep. 12) $2.99 $2.99 NA
Workaholics $2.99 $2.99 NA
The Legend of Korra (ep. 11) $2.99 $2.99 NA
Dallas $2.99 $2.99 NA
Real Housewives of NYC $2.99 $2.99 $1.99 (SD only)
The Batchelorette $2.99 $1.99 (SD only) NA

If you want to watch current HD episodes of TV shows, Google store isn’t playing. The company announced TV show support yesterday, but it’s like looking through an old Netflix catalog as current hot shows aren’t there. Even Amazon falls a little short: When looking for the most recent episodes of popular shows on iTunes, Amazon lacked one and had another in standard definition only.

Magazines are magazines are magazines

Google also added magazine support in Google Play this week and rather than be methodical about the comparison, I spent about 20 minutes browsing the digital newsstands. The main reason why is because the top magazines were available among all three at the same price. Checking the breadth of titles showed the same: Google is at least on even par with Amazon and Apple here. The experience of reading magazines may vary by device — small tablets and phones vs the 9.7-inch iPad, for example — but there’s little differentiation in content here.


Apple’s iTunes Store and Amazon’s market are a close one and two while Google is still playing catch up. Yes, the company has improved digital media offerings in Google Play of late, but there’s still work to be done. I recently said that consumers aren’t buying products anymore; they’re investing in platforms instead. Android as a platform may be the best seller, but Google needs to keep negotiating content deals to strengthen its ecosystem and give consumers a reason to shop in Google Play instead of Amazon or iTunes.

15 Responses to “Media store wars: iTunes vs Amazon vs Google Play”

  1. I have an iPad and want to play my iTunes music on it, well it only synced what I purchased from their store of course. So now I have to get a normal mp3 player and spend more money. Plus, the app for iTunes, or whatever it is, sucks on the iPad. I really hate that thing. Biggest regret ever.

  2. I hope you realize how fundamentally flawed your comparison is: It can’t be a fair comparison when you only look at the content from one source.
    Of course iTunes wins, it has 100% by definition! You should compile top-10 lists from EACH, and check those lists for availability on the other stores.
    I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s at least plausible that top-selling items from Amazon or Google won’t be in iTunes, something that could significantly change the conclusions.

    Of course, you could argue that since Apple is the market leader, you compare the competition to them, but if that’s the case you should prove it by showing that all top items from other stores are indeed also on iTunes.

    /end rant

    Sorry, but I simply hate misleading stats.

    • Peter Deep

      That’s a ridiculous argument. It’s just as important to indicate that a service is lacking variety; that it has not yet matured. By your logic, there should be a top ten list of shows on Netflix too. Watch all you want for a few dollars a month. But there’s a lot fewer shows available, and to not state that would be misleading.

      • You seem to have misunderstood my suggestion. By my logic, if you want to do a fair comparison between services, you give them the same treatment. Simple as that. I have no idea why you brought Netflix into it.
        If there are a lot fewer shows, it would become very apparent in my comparison as well. Try re-reading it.

    • Nadav, appreciate the feedback. There’s a number of ways to make this type of comparison and I didn’t choose this method to ensure that Apple “wins”. As I noted in the article, I used the iTunes App Store as a baseline for comparison here because Apple was the first to truly build it outs digital storefront while others have played catch up. We can debate if iTunes is the “gold standard” here or not, but I had to have a starting point and way to keep this simple but telling of the current digital storefronts; particular now that Google is making a bigger push here. Thanks for the comment; going forward I’ll consider a different way to make these types of comparisons.

  3. Michael Napier

    I think you need to clarify some of your movie pricing on iTunes and Amazon. The iTunes pricing reflects HD rentals but the Amazon pricing is for SD rentals. Most Amazon HD rentals are $4.99 and most iTunes SD rentals are $3.99 so they are priced the same.

    • Peter Deep

      That’s right, Kevin. The SD versions of movie rentals are priced at $3.99 on both iTunes and Amazon, and the HD versions are $4.99 (I checked 21 Jump Street but rent enough movies to know this is the case), so your movie comparison is very wrong. If I could figure out how to get to Google Play – they don’t make it easy, do they, without doing a web search – I could compare their prices too.

      • Peter Deep

        Likewise, I only spend $1.99 for the TV shows on iTunes, not $2.99. I buy the SD version because, to be totally honest, even with my lovely Hitachi plasma I cannot really tell the difference. The quality of the SD version on iTunes is wonderful and good enough for me. It makes a big difference in the price when purchasing whole seasons. And the download time too.

      • “If I could figure out how to get to Google Play – they don’t make it easy, do they”

        That must be a first. Can’t figure out if you’re trolling or just not very smart.

    • Michael, thanks for catching that! I was offline due to some appointments after this story went live, so I couldn’t correct until just now. I’ve updated the table and noted my inadvertent mistake in a short explanation. Thanks again!

      • Peter Deep

        In reply to Nadav, I was all over the pages for my Google Mail, Google Docs (Drive) and Google Voice. If there’s a link or an ad or some other indicator on any of those to go to Google Play, then I’m just not seeing it. I saw links to just about every other Google service there, but not Play. That’s why I said what I said.

      • Reply to Peter (why can’t I reply directly to him?) –
        Options to find Google Play:
        1. There’s a nice, obvious app for it on almost every Android device.
        2. Google search for it (“Google Play”). I assure you it’s the top result.
        3. Google search for “Android”, it’s the third result for me. First result if you search “Android market”.
        4. There’s a link to it on the top black bar in most Google sites (Gmail, search, etc.). I see it 5th from the left.
        5. It’s address is consistent with all Google services:
        In this case,

        Can they really make it any EASIER to find?

      • Peter Deep

        Okay Nadav, I’m not an idiot. I was using a computer, not an Android device. I have Google Apps for Domains which handles all my email, drive, calendar, etc. I use a Mac. Play is not – NOT – in the black bar at the top of any of these pages, nor is it listed in the “More” drop down where you can find Translate, Reader, etc. So no, it’s not there, in the most obvious place it should be, which is what I based my statement on. The only way I could find it was to do a Google search, like you said, but, you know what? You have to LEAVE the Google Apps pages or open a new Google window to actually do a Google web search, you can’t do it from inside of any of the Google Apps for domains pages. If that’s not convoluted, I don’t know what is. That is my opinion and I am sticking with it. Please stop arguing with me. Thank you.

    • Eric DiChiara

      What about the Google Play purchases or rentals? Are those all in HD? I prefer HD over SD any day of the week… so if they’re not then that would be a deal breaker for me.