Amazon recently launched their online music store, named amazonmp3. Unlike most other online music stores, though, Amazon’s offering is completely DRM free, and for this reason, the launch of the amazonmp3 store is a hugely significant event for the online music market.
There is already another large player in the DRM-free market — eMusic offer a completely DRM-free catalogue of independent music and is currently the second largest seller of online music behind iTunes — but amazonmp3 has some significant advantages. Needless to say, the Amazon name clearly already has a lot of trust in online sales, whereas eMusic is still relatively obscure, at least outside the US.
Amazon’s key advantage is that it is able to offer a completely DRM-free catalogue that also features music from two of the four major labels. It is also offering music on a per track/album basis rather than the subscription model used by eMusic — a far more attractive proposition for most people, I expect — but also at a lower cost than the iTunes Music Store. It is really taking the best bits of the two market leaders and undercutting them while it is at it.
I will almost certainly be using the service if/when it launches in the UK. The big draw for me is that it will work perfectly with the system I already use for portable music. The downloader used by the service will integrate almost seamlessly with iTunes on the Mac. Yes, on the Mac! As an iPod user, I rely on iTunes to sync music and manage podcasts for me (and I’m perfectly happy with this arrangement). Any tracks I download from Amazon will be automatically imported in to my iTunes library and subsequently sync’ed to my iPod. Nice.
Compare that with music from most other online music services, such as the now defunct Virgin Digital — their tracks wouldn’t even play on my iPod because of the Windows Media DRM, and that simple fact rules them out of something like 90% of the MP3 player market. Does that make any business sense?
Seeing such a big player as Amazon launching a DRM-free service with major-label support is a huge step towards creating the sort of marketplace that most online music consumers want, rather than a market that alienates customers, locks them in to services and technology, potentially encourages piracy as a less complicated route to obtaining music, and therefore seriously limits its potential to grow.
Instead, it will allow interoperability between computer platforms and portable devices, and give us the sort of market that consumers wanted all along — something more like the CD market, where you can purchase music on a medium that will play on any technically capable device without any added complications (rootkits and the like aside!). Hopefully the remaining two major labels will recognise and acknowledge the advantages of this approach and get onboard soon.