iTunes may be cool. It has the brand name. It leads the market for online digital music sales by a large margin. But AmazonMP3 has something iTunes does not: all four major record labels selling music free of copy protection, or digital rights management.
Sony BMG, the world’s second-largest record label, will start selling DRM-free music on AmazonMP3 at the end of the month, confirming reports that surfaced last week. And, best of all, fans of Sony BMG artists like Britney Spears and Bruce Springsteen will not have to drive to brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy and Target to purchase Platinum MusicPass cards just to download music free of copy protection.
With Sony BMG now joining the other big labels, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner, AmazonMP3 has a clear advantage over iTunes for consumers who want the songs they purchase to be playable on virtually any computer and portable music device.
Additionally, AmazonMP3 songs are often cheaper than iTunes (89 cents to 99 cents), encoded at a higher, better-quality bit rate (256 kbps to 128 kbps, although some 256 kbps songs are available at iTunes Plus), and the record labels like the fact that AmazonMP3 allows flexible pricing and Apple does not.
A month after Amazon began selling MP3s, we noted that AmazonMP3 may have become the No. 3 online music store. We have no official numbers to back this up — yet — but with the Big Four record labels selling their music free of copy protection through the store, AmazonMP3 is certainly now No. 2 (overtaking eMusic) and knocking at iTunes’ door, not in terms of overall sales but DRM inventory and buzz.
We’ve already asked what’s next for iTunes. Maybe nothing as AmazonMP3 selling DRM songs doesn’t mean that people will abandon iPods for Zunes or other MP3 players. In fact, it will probably drive up iPod sales as Apple by far has the best players on the market.
Even so, the iTunes store is looking a little tired and in need of a kick in the butt music-wise, not just renting movies. Even Macworld in its February 2008 issue picks AmazonMP3 as its Editor’s Choice Award for Online Music Store. Christopher Breen writes:
“Amazon has provided us with two valuable services. It offers a high-quality alternative to the iTunes Store and it was instrumental in pushing Apple to slash the price of iTunes Plus (from $1.29 to 99 cents) and strip the copy protection from independent artists’ releases. Competition is a beautiful thing.”