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. But Manjoo is right. The cost for unencumbered MP3s is now $0.99. Who cares if “ripping said CD [is] known to just about anyone”? iTunes is about convenience and doing the CD thing is anything but.

    The MDN commentary also failed to note that Amazon MP3s have a 256 kbps bitrate vs. Apple’s 128 (at the 99 cent price point).

  2. People, don’t be too hard on this guy. He is not a journalist; he is a blogger. The difference is, he doesn’t need to do research; he’s only writing a diary, for cryin’ out loud! These are his impressions and opinions!

    Basically, unless you know the back story of Apple and the Labels, you can’t know how Amazon mp3 downloads came to being. He doesn’t realise that Amazon is just a tool. Jeff Bezos is not a visionary CEO; he just figured he can get some free PR, so he went along with whatever labels suggested. He will continue to get along with whatever labels want, since music downloads will never be his core business. If Apple was barely breaking even on iTunes Store, Amazon could easily be losing money (or labels must be giving them a break with their share of the pie). According to analysts, Apple is paying around $0.70 per $0.99 song. After all expenses, Apple is left with at most $0.10 per song. Regardless of Amazon’s infrastructure, they simply cannot be making any money if they give the labels the same share of the pie.

    Labels (mainly Universal) are trying to choke iTunes Store using Amazon. Will they succeed? We cannot tell. They simply hate Apple so much that they will do anything. And unfortunately, they are powerful enough that, with a compliant Amazon, they just may be able to seriously undermine iTunes. In their myopic vision, though, the aren’t realising that they will again be undermining the healthy growth of the music download business. Without Apple to curb labels’ greed, people would easily return to P2P. Amazon will never care; they’ll just do what labels want. This will be their ultimate undoing.

  3. wow. just wow. so he is an idiot for not pointing out how fairplay works.. but then he points out how fairplay works and is an idiot for not liking it?? WHAT?

    yes itunes is great. DRM blows. period. apple is starting to support non-drm, but the point is this. DRMed files are not as valuable as non-DRMed files. Amazon made a store that has file that can work on any portable device. itunes can’t say that.

    remember, more freedoms, not less.

    magic word, choice. and i agree.

  4. Ya’know, if I was Jobs I would just boot Universal’s tracks off the iTMS and put up a note saying, “As Universal tracks are now available from Amazon at a lower price and with fewer restrictions than Universal allows us to extend to you, please buy from Amazon and show your support for 89 cent, DRM-free music tracks. As Universal makes us charge you 10 cents more for a DRM-restricted track we are suspending the sale of Universal tracks at the iTunes Music Store out of respect for you, the consumer and good Apple customer.”

    Of course, what’s most likely going on here is that Amazon is leveraging its huge server capacity and is delivering the full 89 cents, or something very close to it, to Universal and the other participating indie labels. The idea is to build up Amazon as an established place for music downloads, stop offering tracks on iTMS, and shift new tracks from popular artists to as high a price as possible. 89 cents a track today, $5 a track next year–or even better, from Universal’s perspective, $12 for a 2 tracks and ringtone download package.

  5. I am an Apple Fanatic and my house is full of the products. The one thing that gets me about this site is the MDN take when others are right. Laptops are not a fair add-on to mobile devices. And, MDN shouldn’t pretend through their own ignorance that they are. Itunes store purchases are limited to the ipod and Iphone. Period! Burning to a CD to then bring back to an mp3 format for use is not a correct or smart suggestion. With the elimination of DRM Itunes store purchases will be useable on all devices immediately without conversion. No one may want to with how great the Ipods are but that is not the point.

    When credit is due it needs to be given. In this case it is a strong affirmation of Steve Jobs plans. MDN needs to not always tote the superiority card. That philosophy is what drives most people away from our beloved products. It doesn’t bring them into the fold. MDN… Apple isn’t the only successful company. They are certainly leading the way but when others step-up and enrich the experience they too should get the support you offer Apple for a job well done.

  6. MDN is starting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld defending our policy in Iraq. The Amazon music store will only help Apple to remove DRM. I bought a couple of songs last night just to try it out. It actually integrates with iTunes. I was juiced on the fact that the made it work out of the box with Mac, like no one else has been willing to do (including Amazon’s movie services). And I don’t just mean that the songs were non-DRM mp3 format – they have an OS X (10.4) download client that made it work fast. MDN should give them a damn break.

  7. “The store marks iTunes’ first real competition. In fact, I think it kicks iTunes’ buttons.”

    Um, lets not get carried away. The prices are nice, the non-DRM is nice, but how’s that integration? Not so smooth is it?

  8. MDN, I don’t get it…

    You go on and on defending how Fairplay DRM is not restrictive, yet you think the labels need to abolish DRM… Why? If it isn’t “restrictive” then what’s the point of removing it?

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