Amazon MP3 to add DRM-free music downloads from Sony BMG

Amazon.com has announced that DRM-free MP3 music downloads from Sony BMG Music Entertainment will be available to customers on Amazon MP3, Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 digital music store, which is compatible with Macs, iPod, and iPhone. When Sony BMG is added later this month, Amazon MP3 will be the only retailer to offer customers DRM-free MP3s from all four major music labels, as well as over 33,000 independent labels.

“We are excited to offer Amazon MP3 customers DRM-free MP3s from Sony BMG, which represents many of the most popular musicians from the past and present,” said Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President for Digital Music, in the press release. “Our Amazon MP3 customers will be able to choose from a full selection of DRM-free music downloads from all four major labels and over 33,000 independents that they can play on virtually any music-capable device.”

“We are excited to be working with Amazon as they continue to build new markets for digital music,” commented Thomas Hesse, President, Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, in the press release. “We are constantly exploring new ways of making our music available to consumers in the physical space, over the Internet and through mobile phones, and this initiative is the newest element of our ongoing campaign to bring our music to fans wherever they happen to be.”

Launched in September 2007, Amazon MP3 offers “Earth’s Biggest Selection” of a la carte DRM-free MP3 music downloads, which now includes over 3.1 million songs from more than 270,000 artists. Every song and album in the Amazon MP3 music download store is available exclusively in the MP3 format without digital rights management (DRM) software and is encoded at 256 Kbps. Amazon MP3 customers are free to organize their music using any music management application such as Apple’s iTunes and burn songs to CDs for personal use.

Most songs available on Amazon MP3 are priced from 89 cents to 99 cents, with more than 1 million of the over 3.1 million songs priced at 89 cents. The top 100 bestselling songs are 89 cents, unless marked otherwise. Most albums are priced from US$5.99 to $9.99. The top 100 bestselling albums are $8.99 or less, unless marked otherwise. Customers can purchase downloads using Amazon 1-Click shopping, and with the Amazon MP3 Downloader, seamlessly add their MP3s to their iTunes libraries.

Amazon MP3 is here.

We’ve used Amazon’s music download service and it works well for Macs, iPods, and iPhones. If you want to do some comparison shopping vs. Apple’s iTunes Store, Amazon MP3 is the place. We just wish Amazon would use the superior AAC instead of the ancient MP3 format* for their DRM-free music.

We do not believe that Steve Jobs really cares if you buy tunes at Amazon or iTunes, as long as you don’t buy something encoded with Microsoft DRM and as long as you play it on Apple hardware (Macs, iPods, iPhones, Apple TV). It’d be nice if you used iTunes Store, but it’s not at all essential to Apple’s success.

Now, how long can the music cartels get away with offering DRM-free music to the also-rans while blatantly excluding Apple? Are they demanding variable pricing (read: price hikes) and bundles (read: albums-only with assorted, mostly-unwanted “extras”) from Apple before deigning to remove their locks? Is it legal to exclude the dominant seller of online music simply because you desperately desire to “level the playing field?” Where is the collusion line and when will it be crossed, if it hasn’t been crossed already?

* AAC (Advanced Audio Coding codec or MPEG-4 Audio) provides higher-quality results with smaller file sizes and better decoding efficiency (requiring less processing power for decode) than the old MP3 format. More info here.

24 Comments

  1. iTunes won’t get more major labels without DRM.

    The major labels are shopping mp3 files everywhere else to build up the other stores. They would like to see Amazon and others cause significant market erosion for iTMS, at which point they will simply pull their tracks from iTMS. After they are free, or so the plan is, of Steve’s 99 cent per track demand they will double, triple, or quadruple the prices on the other stores.

    The pricing being offered Amazon and others right now is just a loss-leader intended to build up the stores, with the real pricing coming after the tracks are pulled from iTMS,

    Expect no more popular singles for a dollar–instead the only way you will be able to legally buy a popular single digitally is by buying an entire digital album for $18.99, or buying a “package” made up of the track you want forced-bundled with random remixes, b-sides, a video, and some flash crap for the bundled price of $9.99.

  2. Glad there isn’t any collusion on the record labels/publishers part? To harm another company. Where is the Justice Department on this?

    Something screwy. I know of no other company’s that REFUSE to sell to Wal-Mart because they’re too powerful.

    It can’t come soon enough for me that EVERY record label and publisher are in bankruptcy. They’re so close now. Once this happens, Apple, Google & Microsoft will just buy them up at fire sale prices.

  3. Think about this. iTunes is the only tool out on the market that fully integrates with the iPod and iPhone, making purchasing as simple and elegant as it can get. Every major competitor, including Amazon, is at a distinct disadvantage here, regardless of whether they offer more DRM-free music. And even with that, I have to agree with Armchair Pundit. If it doesn’t happen next Tuesday, it will happen – most music will go DRM-free on iTunes.

    None of these providers have been a serious threat to Apple in the past. Will there be serious threats in the future? Sure. But Apple still has the upper hand. it already has the best mechanism for digital music delivery, so that makes it easier for them to make small strategical shifts to counter companies like Amazon.

    fm

  4. A few things. First, YES, it is legal to exclude anybody you want to when choosing where to sell your items. I can only get Craftsman tools at sears, does that mean I need to sue Craftsman because I can’t find it at K-Mart. Does Wal-Mart need to raise a fit because Craftsman only sells at Sears? No, it person that makes the product has the legal right to decide where to sell it.

    If they don’t want to sell it on iTunes because iTunes wants to provide the best pricing for customers and they want to be able to charge as much as they want for 2 minutes of audio, than that’s fine, let them sell it elsewhere.

    Second, MDN is right, iTunes is not profitable for Apple. It’s just an easy means to get started using your iPod’s, iPhones, and other devices. You can get your music from wherever. Fact is, iTunes will play any file format you drop into it. You can buy on Amazon and throw into iTunes and have no problems whatsoever. So buy your MP3 from Amazon and then use iTunes to manage it and listen to it ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

    Third, in regards to the AAC vs MP3 thought that MDN keeps throwing out there. Yes AAC is a better format, but in the day and age of technology taking so long to get into the hands of people, it takes years.

    There are some 125 million (that’s a guess BTW) devices that can play MP3. My ford factory stereo can play MP3 cd’s. But none of them can play AAC. Now I know that of the 125 million number I grabbed that about 100 million are iPod’s and can play AAC, but the fact remains that the other 25 million can not. If each person that owns one of those 25 million non-AAC players purchased a song from amazon, well, that would be $25 million dollars in profit alone, let alone iPod owners that will purchase. Honestly, would any company sacrifice the potential for $25 million in sales to switch to a format that still plays the same way on devices, but just has a slightly smaller file size? No, I don’t think so.

    Until AAC decoders start appearing in all the cell phones (not just iPhones), in all the Car Stereos, and TV’s, and GPS devices etc… Then MP3 will be king.

    That’s the reason people keep picking MP3 instead of AAC, it’s an economic reason, not because they like the encoding better.

    Apple is just faster at getting new technology into the hands of it’s customers than any other company is. You will just have to face the fact that we are all AHEAD of the curve and just need to watch the rest of the world catch up.

  5. @ REAL TORben said: “First, YES, it is legal to exclude anybody you want to when choosing where to sell your items. I can only get Craftsman tools at sears, does that mean I need to sue Craftsman because I can’t find it at K-Mart. Does Wal-Mart need to raise a fit because Craftsman only sells at Sears? No, it person that makes the product has the legal right to decide where to sell it.”

    Thanks for interjecting some common sense into the discussion. Using litigation to make things “fair” is not the answer. Next we’ll be hearing that some fool has sued Apple to force them to play WMA files on iTunes.

    Oh wait…

  6. If you like being able to buy a single song and you like the $0.99 price of that then don’t support Amazon in this quest to take market share from iTunes. For if you do you will certainly see prices rise once Amazon gets some traction…

  7. Thank you REALTORben for the common sense that MDN seems to lack. There’s nothing illegal about choosing what stores can carry your products. Maybe I’m not cynical enough to get it (or fanboy enough, either way), but I think it’s possible that Apple just isn’t giving the distributing labels what they want and Amazon is. Hey, I’m all for $0.89 songs! And I highly doubt you’ll see so called “bundles”. It’s nonsense.

    As for the MP3-AAC thing, REAL TORben hit it on the head. Believe it or not, but there are players that don’t play AAC! Now, here’s where I get especially lashed, but more than AAC, I’d rather see WMAs. It’s been shown that at equivalent bitrate, WMA is better than both MP3 and AAC. Of course, I’d take AAC over MP3, but my player does do AAC.

  8. There is no down-side for Apple here. Steve Jobs has succeeded in starting the process that will eventually kill DRM for music. Whether the music comes from Amazon or iTunes Store, Apple will still sell iPods by the tens of millions. Besides, most of music on iPods come from other sources, such as CDs and those “alternative” means of downloading. DRM-free music will just make the trend toward legal digital downloading more powerful, versus physical purchase via CDs. That will lead to more iPods being sold.

    The main difference is that Apple profits mainly from hardware sales. Competitors of Apple’s iTunes Store profit from sale of the media content. Apple wants to make the content as accessible and cheap as possible, to encourage the sale of more iPods. The competition wants to (eventually) charge as much as possible for content. It must be frustrating for the “media content vendors” to compete with Apple, because Apple is not even playing the same game. It’s a game where Apple wins whether Amazon succeeds or not.

  9. It would be my guess that the remaining major labels that sell music via iTunes with DRM are “honoring their contract” with Apple. No doubt SJ and Apple have offered to remove the DRM to the remaining stragglers, they (the labels) just want to exercise what little control they still have as required by their contracts.

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