I covered Amazon.com for years, and one of the top questions that always lingered was, when would it start offering digital music? After all, Amazon already knows a lot about the CD-buying preferences of millions of people and would be a very logical digital music source.
The answer is now clear: When it can simply be a music store, instead of a music service. Amazon today started selling MP3 files of 2 million songs from two of the four major labels — EMI and Universal Music -– as well as a bunch of independents.
Commenters on Slashdot are hailing this as a way to finally stick it to The Man, aka the folks that brought you DRM. Though weirdly, one commenter early on says "Of course, without DRM few of the major labels play with them." By my count, EMI + Universal = 50% of the major labels. But I was always bad at math.
Being the intrepid reporter I am, I rushed to try the service to tell you what you should think. I am pleased to report that, unless you work for Apple, you should be happier than Rush Limbaugh's pharmacist.
I downloaded Velvet Underground and Nico, one of the many albums that was eaten by the first of the Three Great Music Collection Wipeouts that have blighted my life. No, really, I can't say any more--I'll just start crying.
Anyway, Amazon was selling it, DRM free, for $7.97--a 20% discount off of the copy-protected version on Amazon. Downloading it to my Mac was simplicity itself, though there were a few slightly weird things. First weirdness: I use Safari for my Amazon purchases, even though Mozilla is my default browser. After it downloaded and installed, it made me restart Safari, then promptly opened up a window in Mozilla to complete the installation. This didn't exactly blight the process; it was just strange.
Second weirdness: in order to complete the installation, it makes you download a free song to test things. I am now the proud owner of "Energy" by Apples in Stereo, which is actually kind of catchy.
Then I proceeded to my Velvet Underground purchase. The service uses One-Click, which I hadn't turned on before; I had to tell it what credit card I wanted to use. Once I'd done that, however, the download was incredibly smooth. It not only downloaded the whole album, but instantly transferred it to my iTunes folder.
All in all, I expect that using it will be slightly clunkier than buying within iTunes, since it has to use Amazon's more complicated back end, and of course, you have to open up a web browser. It also doesn't yet have nearly as much information about the album as iTunes does, so you have to kind of know what you want.
On the other hand, it's awfully convenient if you're already shopping at Amazon. And 20% off DRM-free content from major labels is pretty sweet. I'd bet this forces Apple's prices down fairly rapidly. And it may well open up the other two major labels to DRM-free content.
Oh, and the music sounds fine; I can't tell the difference between the MP3 and the AAC version I was just streaming from someone else's computer.
By the way: we really do live in miraculous times.
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