“Amazon’s MP3 store — which sells only songs without copy protection — has quietly become No. 2 in digital sales since opening nearly six months ago, say the four major labels. That’s even though Apple dominates digital music with its iTunes Store (the second-largest music retailer in the world, after Wal-Mart) and its hugely popular iPod,” Jefferson Graham reports for USA Today.

MacDailyNews Take: “…Say the four major labels.” No hard numbers from NPD or any other independent firm, just a nebulous “Amazon’s #2″ according to “the four major labels” who, by the way, are trying their damnedest to create a strong contender to iTunes in an attempt to weaken Apple’s bargaining power.

In addition, in a very curious edit, the same USA Today story is being carried by Yahoo News and many others via syndication that inexplicably omits the extremely crucial line: “say the four major labels.” So, all syndicated instances of this article are actually running a story claiming that Amazon is #2 without qualification. Pure nonsense. And fishy. What kind of editor would take out the five most important words in the article? Why, it’s almost as if the labels themselves edited the syndicated article! We know, we know: we’re crazy. wink

This would be like MOPAR claiming that Chrysler is #2 in the world on the pages of USA Today and then the syndicated article just happens to drop the five-word mention that it was MOPAR, Chrysler’s vehicle parts supplier, that made the claim. This is wrong.

This article sounds like a plant by the labels to juice Amazon’s store. Whether or not Graham and his editors were duped by the music labels into running an Amazon MP3 Store ad masquerading as a news article in USA Today, we don’t know. Regardless, to protect his reputation, Graham should be publicly demanding to know why his story is being syndicated without the “say the four major labels” qualifier.

Contacts:

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Graham continues, “The push for copy-protection-free music began nearly a year ago, when Apple and major label EMI shocked the industry by announcing a landmark arrangement to sell 150,000 songs without digital rights management (DRM) software. It was the first time a major label had agreed to such terms.”

“Apple, which claims an 80% share of digital music sales, said consumers would be ecstatic about the EMI deal and that digital sales would greatly increase. CEO Steve Jobs predicted his iTunes catalog would be 50% DRM-free by the end of 2007. But that never happened,” Graham reports. “Warner, Sony/BMG and Universal all opted to sell their DRM-free music on Amazon instead. ‘The labels think Apple has too much influence,’ says Phil Leigh, an analyst at Inside Digital Media.”

MacDailyNews Take: Collusion.

Graham continues, “Apple now has 2 million songs from EMI and independent labels available without DRM, out of its 6 million-song catalog. Amazon offers 4.5 million DRM-free songs.”

In a sidebar to the article, Graham reports that Apple is considering “pre-loaded iPods with access to iTunes… Apple is meeting with labels to discuss a new kind of subscription — pre-loaded iPods with access to many songs from iTunes’ catalog, according to persons with knowledge of the meetings who didn’t want to be quoted about discussions that are not yet public. Apple had no comment.”

Full article here.

Our problem with this article is not at all about whether Amazon is #2 to iTunes Store in digital music sales or not. In fact, we agree that Amazon probably is the distant #2; by how much nobody knows, as it seems the “four major labels” have somehow neglected to say. That bit of info probably didn’t favor the overall theme of the article. Furthermore, we have recommended using Amazon’s music store as it is iPod- and Mac-compatible — although we’re now reconsidering that recommendation as the labels’ intent becomes clearer and clearer with each passing day. So, buy from iTunes if you can.

The problems we have with this article concern the Who, What, and Why:
• Who is saying Amazon’s #2?
• What is their agenda for getting a reporter to write it up in USA Today right now?
• Why was the fact that it was “the four major labels” who said Amazon is now #2 omitted from the syndicated copy?

Beyond lacking actual numbers that give some meaningful perspective (how much share does this #2 Amazon have compared to Apple, anyway?), the article is totally meaningless without knowing who is claiming Amazon is #2 to iTunes. But, if you know who’s saying it, it makes all the sense in the world.

MacDailyNews Note: This article was originally published at 2:15pm EDT and was updated at 8:20pm EDT with portions of our Takes revised and expanded upon for clarity.