Perhaps having learned from the Amazon Unbox fiasco, the new Amazon MP3 Downloads Store fails to suck. Frankly, there is a lot to like here, and it might be the first viable iTunes competitor.
Not that Apple should be concerned, I think, but more on that in a minute.
The store’s songs are MP3’s with no DRM, encoded at 256 kbps (actually, it’s VBR, so your bitrate may vary slightly). The key consequence, and the reason that this store may succeed, is that these files work on iPods, as opposed to all the WMA-based predecessors that required Windows and players other than the iPod (you know, the ones that make up the 20% or so of the MP3 player market that isn’t iPods).
Amazon’s not the first, of course. EMusic has been doing a subscription-based MP3 service for a while, and I’ve bought MP3’s from smaller services like Snocap (they work with video game music stars OneUp Studios, for example). But Amazon has two million songs, and at a nice high bitrate, with prices significantly lower than iTunes Plus.
Speaking of pricing, one objection I do have is that if you want to get the discount for buying the whole album, you have to use 1-Click and install the Amazon MP3 Downloader, which is only available for Mac and Windows. That means Linux users will have to pay more to download each track individually, but then again, they’ve been largely cut out of music downloads thusfar, so it’s still a win for them. And I’d still prefer to work with a shopping cart than the pushy 1-Click, but whatever, if that’s how Amazon feels they have to be…
Here’s a peek at the downloader app:
When you get the downloader, it tests things by buying you a song of its choice for free. No, I wouldn’t ordinarily have been shopping for The Apples In Stereo, but it could have been worse (it could have been The Eagles). By default, the downloader puts files into an “Amazon MP3″ folder in your Music folder. If, like me, you’ve moved your iTunes library to another drive or partition, change this in the preferences before you do your first download. In another interesting default, the downloader automatically adds your purchases to your iTunes library.
Overall, it’s a very nice service, and puts up a serious challenge to iTunes. Should Apple be scared? I doubt it. The iTunes store has always been only marginally profitable — all Apple’s power and money comes from the iPod. This store is just another way to get content into your iPod, and if anything, making it cheaper and easier to feed your iPod may make users even more enthusiastic about feeding their iPods. Sure, being MP3 makes it easier to migrate off iPod someday, but after all these years, we have yet to see rival hardware manufacturers make even a small dent in the iPod’s popularity, so as long as Apple keeps putting out great iPods, they’ve got nothing to be afraid of.
Now if Amazon would only do this with video…