iTunes Receives some Welcome Competition

By Joshua Hill—— Bio and Archives--October 3, 2007

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For a long time now, longer than you would first think considering how time flies in the tech world, Apple has been the leader in online music sales, thanks in part to their near-monopoly on the portable media device market, and the symbiotic iTunes Store. They’ve led the way in terms of sales for music, and video.


However, there is a new player on the block, and they’re not so new.

Amazon.com has been at online sales a lot longer than Apple has, and they’ve gotten it down pretty good so far. They lead the way as an internet store, selling everything from books to baby strollers.

Late last month, Amazon launched what they’ve labeled “Amazon mp3”  mp3 being the format in which they are selling their music. Their songs are priced between $0.89 and $0.99, coming from a catalogue of over 2 million songs from 180,000 artists and 20,000 labels and with albums selling between $5.99 and $9.99.

The major difference for we who reside in the tech world, and therefore get to tell you what the major differences are, is the total DRM free nature of the songs. DRM—or Digital Rights Management—is what forbids you from playing an iTunes store song on, say a Creative Zen media player, or halts you from giving your songs to someone else. It is a pain, and in the long run, will only be a hindrance to those sellers who grasp on to it in the vain hope that it will eventually pull through.

For DRM the major problem at the moment, along with the almost existential compulsion that many major music labels have is with wanting more and more money for themselves. Only recently have iTunes finally made a step in the right direction by selling their iTunes Plus songs, which while at a higher price at $1.29, have no DRM. Many labels and online retailers all believe that DRM is the savior of their music, providing people do not copy and trade—thus making each person buy it for themselves. But the actual fact that is obvious to many, but apparently invisible to those at the top, is that if the music is not easy to acquire, people will not acquire it.

So now that Amazon had launched an entirely DRM-free music service, with a top 100 song list, all selling for 89 cents (unless otherwise noted), the competition has cause to worry.

In fact, it is not just the pricing and DRM-free-ness that Amazon has gotten right, but the downloading of said music as well. Many online stores have forced customers to use involved programs that clog up computers and generally dislike the world. But Amazon have learnt from their disastrous Amazon UnBox launch and provided a program that is quick, seamless, and most of all compatible with all media devices.

The source for my desire to write this article seems less enthused than I, and to be honest, I question the reliability. Amazon MP3 has a real chance to take it to Apple, with a name-brand that is already beloved, the prowess to make this work well, and the ability to provide cheap songs. Apple’s iTunes will still only work with an iPod or iPhone, and while they have a considerable market share with those two devices (and their various in-bred cousins), the rest of the market is made up of devices that cannot play iTunes songs.

Amazon had a chance to bridge the gap, and it won’t be long until Apple will have to make a choice; whether to continue to provide content for their players alone, or to remove the DRM entirely and allow it to go for a reasonable price to everyone.

Amazon versus Apple; it was always going to be this way.

Joshua Hill, a Geek’s-Geek from Melbourne, Australia, Josh is an aspiring author with dreams of publishing his epic fantasy, currently in the works, sometime in the next 5 years. A techie, nerd, sci-fi nut and bookworm.


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