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The New Amazon Music Store: the Morning After


By: Spacelab Research Staff
In the aftermath of last week's Amazon's AmazonMP3 service, Spacelab looks at the release to see what the store has to offer. It's a lot, as it turns out...

Although they didn't get the near-hysteria that surrounds an Apple release, it was well received and looks like a promising store. It's also creating its own stake in downloadable music with higher quality MP3's with a lower price than iTunes. Let the battle begin!

The first big thing is the MP3 format, which makes AmazonMP3 "player agnostic." It doesn't matter what kind of MP3 / digital media player you have, tracks bought at Amazon MP3 will work on that player. That's a big plus for anyone who like to listen to music (and pay for it). When you combine that with the fact that Amazon has the potential to be a huge retailer in music, like everything else they do, you get a service that could be a major force of its own. The tracks come in the 256 kbps flvor, which means better than average sound quality ... for an MP3, that is. AmazonMP3 will also add your purchased tracks automatically to your library in Windows Media Player or iTunes.

The MP3 choice also makes the music DRM free, or digital rights management free. You can put the music on as many players as you want, burn as many CDs as you want, give the track to as many friends as you want. It's up to you.

The store is Web site-based rather than making the user download software to use it, that's a plus. They also use the Amazon one-click technology so that you don't have to re-enter your credit card data every time you come back to the site. You might notice the same thing at iTunes, because Apple licensed this from Amazon when they launched iTunes. Easy access.

The layout and design of the store has the same functional features we've come to expect from Amazon: clean, minimal and functional. Amazon has yet to provide a high-quality site on the experiential level, meaning that they've got the basics covered, but aren't really providing a high-end experience. Their music player works well but gets lost in the clutter of having so much stuff on one page.

AmazonMP3 does have nice filtering tools that make it easy to browse and find new music. iTunes seems a bit more limited in its ability to recommend music to you based on past purchases. Amazon can be intuitive in its ability to "learn" your preferences in music. One downide is that the search function seems to work more on song and album titles rather than more wholistic terms. A search for "Merge Records" yields many results, but stacks titles with the words Merge Records (like "Old Enough to Know Better: 15 Years of Merge Records") at the top, leaving you clicking through many pages just to get to the latest Spoon or Arcade Fire albums.

Although the songs are 89 to 99 cents now, Amazon has reserved the right to use what's called variable pricing. The major labels LOVE this, and have been trying to get iTunes to do this for years, and has finally found a major retailer that will do this with Amazon. Future releases could be two or three dollars, licensed exclusively to Amazon (for a period of time), before going back down to 89 cents. Touchee.

What about the selection? With almost 20,000 labels participating, you get some serious selection, including independent labels. Right now there are over two million tracks available. Sony BMG and the now perinnial behind the times Warner Music have opted to stay out of AmazonMP3, but the other major labels are in.

Could this signal the end of the era of the store/player ecosystem like iTunes and whatever Microsoft is calling their flavor of the year right now? Quite possibly. Apple isn't super-invested in iTunes, they just want you to but an iPod or iPhone, and iTunes came along for lack of a better option at the time. Amazon helps fuel that fire for Apple, because they can also help Apple sell iPods and music in the same purchase.

AmazonMP3 is good for one basic reason - they don't force you into choices that benefit Amazon and Amazon alone. The real story here might be the one of the music buyer, who gets another good option with good selection and easy to use music.


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