Salon: Amazon MP3 store vs. Apple iTunes Store

“I love the iTunes Music Store. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the shop in the spring of 2003, I called it revolutionary, and who can argue that it’s been anything but?” Farhad Manjoo writes for Salon.

Manjoo writes, “Still, iTunes has always seemed like a stopgap measure, something to tolerate until the music industry got its act together. I think of it, now, as a place to buy music that I like, but not a place to get music I love. If you love something you want a permanent copy, and music from iTunes is fundamentally ephemeral: Nearly everything you purchase from the store will never work on any device not made by Apple.”

MacDailyNews Take: iTunes Store-purchased content work on Mac or Windows PC desktops and notebooks, can be burned onto music CDs and played on any CD player and – by ripping said CD – played on any MP3 player on Earth. It’s quite simple. Known to just about anyone who’s ever used iTunes. Yet, it’s amazing how many people get this wrong either by lazily repeating ignorance or intentionally spreading disinformation, isn’t it?

[And, as MacDailyNews reader “kenpet” notes below: You can also use iTunes to convert your non DRM music files to mp3 which is playable anywhere. Just set your iTunes Preferences: Advanced: Import Using to “MP3 Encoder” and you can then convert any track to MP3 under iTunes’ “Advanced” menu.]

Manjoo continues, “This week, Amazon launched a beta version of a music store that breaks this lock-in.”

MacDailyNews Take: You know, the “lock-in” that doesn’t exist. iPods do not require iTunes Store purchases. The iTunes Store does not require iPods. Is that simple enough for you, Farhad?

Manjoo continues, “All of Amazon’s tracks are sold as unrestricted MP3s, free of Digital Rights Management, or DRM — they will work on just about any music player in the world, including an iPod. The store marks iTunes’ first real competition. In fact, I think it kicks iTunes’ buttons.”

MacDailyNews Take: And we’re supposed to care about what you think because so far you’ve gotten extremely simple facts completely wrong? M’kay, Farhad.

Manjoo continues, “Here’s the main way Amazon runs circles around iTunes: I kid you not, shopping for digital music at Amazon simply feels better than shopping on iTunes. That’s because everything is unrestricted. You don’t have to consider where you’re going to play the songs or if you plan to keep them for the long run… Most of the tracks on iTunes, meanwhile, are gummed up by Apple’s copy-protection scheme, called FairPlay. Under these restrictions, you can put your songs on just five computers at a time; make only seven CD copies of a particular playlist; and, if you want to go mobile, the iPod and iPhone are your only option.”

MacDailyNews Take: Quick, alert the manufacturers! Mac and Windows PC notebooks are not “mobile.” Although, for some reason, we see people – on planes, for example – listening to something with white earbuds plugged into their notebooks. Must not be music. Oh, “only” seven CDs (until you change the order of a song and can burn seven more). Regardless, all you need is one CD and – Boom! – unrestricted Psychic well-being out the yin-yang.

Manjoo continues, “As wonderful as it has been to see Apple change the music business — and make no mistake, that’s what it did; Amazon’s store is only possible because Apple paved the way — nobody benefits from a digital-music monopoly.”

MacDailyNews Take: Farhad really screwed up here; he got something right.

Manjoo continues, “From now on when I look for music, I’m going to go to Amazon first. Only if I don’t find something there will I think about buying from iTunes. If you value your freedom, I recommend you do the same.”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Kevin” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Take: You go to Amazon first if you’re interested in saving some money, not because of some ignorant dope scribbling about the value of “freedom.” People who are looking at Amazon forget that prices are not static. These could be introductory prices for all we know. If the labels are giving better pricing to Amazon, and artificially manipulating the market, then Apple – and perhaps Apple’s lawyers – are going to have something serious to say about it.

Competition is good. Don’t forget that it was Apple’s Steve Jobs who called for the end of music DRM, prompting just such competition. So, use the store that offers what you want, whether it be cross-platform support, file formats, bit-rates, selection, and/or prices. We plan to check out both Amazon and iTunes Store when buying music – because they both support Macs and iPods. We’ll probably buy from whichever store has the best price (even though we prefer AAC over the old dino MP3 format). Competition is good. Let it work its magic.

People who look at this as “Amazon takes on iTunes Store” completely miss the real story. Jobs’ call for the removal of DRM was designed to totally marginalize Microsoft, once and for all. It’s the final nail in MS’s coffin. Redmond will not control digital music formats. Apple won. Meanwhile, iPod sales continue unabated as iTunes Store does not and never did drive iPod purchases (which we know because 97% of music on the average iPod is not from the iTunes Store). And, believe it or not, despite recent hyperbole, Apple’s iTunes Store will be just fine.


  1. I use to be into downloading music. I really don’t care about the whole drm issue on iTunes its the sound quality issue which has stopped me from downloading music from iTunes or Amazon. Even at 256kps AAC it doesn’t compare to the original CD. Recently I bought a CD(yes a real CD) of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and I compared one of the tracks on the CD to a track that I bought off of iTunes of the same exact album. The difference was like the difference between a RAW image and a compressed jpeg. So until Apple starts using the Apple Lossless(with or without drm) scheme I’m not going to download music thats sounds like FM radio.

  2. It is not a rational strategy for consumers to divide their business between Amazon and Apple. There will be never be “free competition” in music downloads as long as the major record companies have the oligopolistic power of getting to choose which producers’ music is heard and which distributors can distribute music. We have already seen the signs of collusion between the companies in their negotiations with Apple.

    This Amazon ploy is a way of dividing the market so that the companies can threaten to shift their contracts to Amazon or Apple according to how they cooperate. If you buy from Amazon, you are helping to bring back album bundling and higher single prices. Apple is the only player whose profits don’t depend significantly on a higher price for the music.

    Interesting that Manjoo has little to say about watermarking. That’s an effort to end the real constraint on music pricing — file sharing.

  3. You may use iTunes to convert your non DRM music files to mp3 which is playable anywhere. Just set your preferences:advanced:import coder to mp3 and you can convert any track to mp3 under the “Advanced” menu.

  4. “iTunes Store-purchased content work on Mac or Windows PC desktops and notebooks, can be burned onto music CDs and played on any CD player and – by ripping said CD – played on any MP3 player on Earth.”

    Yah… and by twice re-encoding the file, you degrade it. You may technically be correct in your criticism, but seriously… that is just dopey considering the alternative: high-bitrate, DRM-free music files.

  5. Aside from all the FUD that is floating about, the fact of the matter is that the general public DOES see iTunes and DRM’d services as limitations. Face the truth, the only reason that the iTunes store is as successful as it is, is because the iPod is bigger then the Walkman! That is it.

    Get over the stuff about RIP’ing iTunes tracks to break the DRM, the average music user is NOT going to do that.

    I am sure that Steve is VERY happy with the Amazon store and releasing DRM free MP3’s. The deal that Apple stuck with EMI was a huge hurdle to overcome with the RIAA and the next powerhouse in music sales is hitching on for the ride.

    Get real people, iTunes or not, DRM sucks and I for one am VERY excited that other major online distributers are on the ball as breaking the chain to the RIAA and DRM!

    It could be worse, we could all be shackled to a M$ DRM and at any time M$ could decide to change the licensing rules and we would have to pay more to keep tracks we already purchased.

    To officially end my rant, the iTunes store is great, but we all know that someday it will come to an end. Steve saw this iPod thing as a great opportunity to get apple out of the red and they did so. It was also a great opportunity to make Apple a household name again, not a joke. Again, great job.

    All the apps and services that are time to iTunes, you wait and see, some day it will all just be part of the OS. iTunes today is the computer interface of tomorrow. This has already been proven, where did Steve say that they got inspiration for Spotlight? iTunes.

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