Review: Amazon MP3 offers compelling, promising alternative to iTunes

last100-amazon-mp3-itunes-sm.jpgI feel like I am cheating on my wife. I’m listening to music downloaded from the new Amazon MP3 store — in iTunes and on my iPod.

Years ago, before the iTunes Music Store, I dreamed of a time when I could download music from any online store and play it on any digital music player. Online music stores were rare then, but then Apple opened the iTMS in April 2003 and downloading legal music took off.

At the time, I was forced to deal with digital rights management (DRM) that said I could only listen to iTunes music on an iPod. Apple offered the best digital music players and a pleasant online music store experience, so I turned to Apple, the iPod, iTunes, the iTMS, and simply endured DRM.

Even so, I’ve always wanted my music DRM-free, so I could use it on different devices, and share it with my daughter and wife. Apple said no, I can’t do that, so the music in the family remains crippled, tied to different user accounts, and a pain to share.

amazon mp3 front

That all may change now that Amazon has opened its DRM-free music store, Amazon MP3, which offers a stout 1-2-3 combination for music downloads. Now I can purchase music and listen to it on any PC, Mac, or Linux computer using iTunes or almost any media player software. Better yet, I can listen to the songs on any digital audio player — an iPod, one of the Creative Zens, a Zune — and I can share them with the wife and kid.

My dream has come true.

So, naturally, a day after Amazon MP3’s opening I had to see how it compares to the iTunes Music Store. What I found didn’t really surprise me: Amazon MP3 is, for want of a better word, very Amazon-y — it’s familiar to those who shop at the online mega-store. MP3 is, like the iTunes Music Store, remarkably simple to use and it offers pretty much everything iTunes does, only in its own, Amazon way.

Here’s what I like and dislike about both online stores.

What I like about Amazon MP3:

  • Lower cost (songs are 89 to 99 cents, albums mostly range from $5 to $10)
  • No DRM!
  • I can play the music on any player
  • It offers the Radiohead catalog

amazonmp3-downloading-sample-sm.jpgWhat I don’t like about Amazon MP3:

  • The MP3 store is a part of the entire Amazon operation, meaning I shop for music amid books, home and garden, food and groceries, and so on
  • To purchase movies or TV shows, I have to go to Unbox, located elsewhere on the Amazon site
  • I also have to use more than one interface with Amazon MP3: a browser to get to the store, a downloader for my purchases, and another piece of software to play the music
  • It has a cluttered, Amazon-familiar interface; it has many of the features of iTunes like new and notable, top songs and albums, spotlighted (or featured) music and artists, and so on, but these are not presented as nicely
  • Amazon MP3’s community is not so much music and movies as it is the entire Amazon world; customer reviews and lists are the same on MP3 as they are elsewhere on Amazon
  • There’s not nearly as many songs to download on Amazon MP3 as there are on iTunes

itunes-front.jpgWhat I like about iTunes:

  • There’s one interface for shopping, downloading purchases, organization, and playing selections; this goes for music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, video podcasts, audiobooks, and more
  • The iTunes Music Store is seamlessly integrated with iPod hardware and iTunes desktop software, forming a tight and highly successful ecosystem that no one else has been able to duplicate
  • iTunes presents a ton of information on its homepage, but for the most part the interface is clean, compartmentalized, and the use of tabs to presents more choices without making the user scroll (like on Amazon MP3); I feel like the iTunes interface knows me better than Amazon
  • iTunes has a strong community beyond customer reviews; there are iTunes Collections, iTunes Essentials, iMix, Celebrity Playlists, the new Starbucks entertainment, and Nike Sport Music, among others
  • iTunes has the best selection of music for download on the planet

What I dislike about iTunes:

  • The higher cost (DRM-protected songs are 99 cents, DRM-free songs are $1.29, most albums are $9.99)
  • A majority of the music is DRM protected
  • I can play the music only on iPods
  • It still does not have the Radiohead catalog



After downloading music from both sites, I’m conflicted. As a loyal user of the iTunes Music Store, I want to continue shopping there. But for the first time I have legitimate options, and they are powerful ones not to be dismissed by Apple.

What is so appealing about Amazon MP3, so intoxicating, is its 1-2-3 punch. DRM-free music, at a lower cost, that I can share. That combination may outweigh any negatives Amazon MP3 has now, no matter how loyal one might be to iTunes.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

3 Responses to “Review: Amazon MP3 offers compelling, promising alternative to iTunes”

  1. Anne says:

    Funny, you have expressed exactly how I feel. Ahhhh…if only we could have the best of both worlds! I love my iPod and have no desire for a different player, so that’s not an issue for me, but still it’s nice to feel so free AND the price is right! I’ve already downloaded three albums from Amazon and frankly the only time I’ll be buying from iTunes is when the album isn’t available at Amazon. As a loyal Mac using Apple fan, this is the first time I’ve been persuaded away from iTunes to download songs…I think this is really gonna fly!

  2. I tried Amazon MP3 as soon as I read about it, and for me the pros well outweigh the cons. It’s so easy to use with iTunes that I don’t need to go back, and I’d imagine 99% of the time the 2.3 million songs will cover what I need.

  3. Rob says:

    Finally, some real competition to iTunes! Unfortunately, if you live outside of the US, you can’t use AmazonMP3. If you are one of those unlucky people, there is a site that searches several non-DRM music stores at once: You’ll certainly find a store that will work for you.

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