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AmazonMP3 vs. iTunes

By Shelly Palmer (bio), Managing Director, Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC

Amazon's Apple Helper

Amazon.com has launched AmazonMP3.com, an online download-to-own site. It's awesome! If you think you have shopped for music online in the past, stop reading now, go directly to http://www.amazonmp3.com and you'll get an up-close, personal view of what you've been missing. Did I mention, it's awesome!

To be fair, I'm a pretty big Amazon fan to begin with. I love Amazon Prime, the shopping experience, the collaborative filters, the recommendation engine — all of it. And, as a very loyal customer, I am predisposed to their GUI (graphical user interface) and I'm already signed up for their one-click purchasing.

First, the good news. If you're already an Amazon customer, AmazonMP3 knows you. The first thing I saw was a display of things that they thought I might like. They were right. I liked quite a few of the recommended albums and songs. It was a mixed-media shopping experience and I chose a bunch of stuff from (and about) the musicians, composers and recording artists I was interested in.

The purchasing was truly one-click. If you're not already an Amazon customer, I'm sure you will have to do the one-time account set-up, which honestly I can't comment on because I haven't done it in years. But, if it's as easy as changing account information, it's a painless process.

Before your purchases are available for download, you will be asked to download and install the AmazonMP3 download tool. This takes seconds and my experience was unremarkable. The next thing you do is click to download your music and, if you so desire, AmazonMP3 will put the songs directly into your iTunes program with all of the required metadata. This is cool.

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In fact, the metadata is more complete (in many cases) than anything you might see from purchases at the iTunes store.

Most importantly, all of the songs are 100% DRM (digital rights management) free. There are no technological restrictions on how you might use these files. Remember, the law hasn't changed, it's just that the draconian technological restrictions are gone. Everything you know about illegal file sharing is still true. It's not legal to send these files to everyone you know or to put them on your website for free downloading by strangers.

On the other hand, if you need to move the file from one computer to another. Or, put the file on different mp3 players in different locations, have at it. The files are yours to do with what you will.

A few weeks ago, I decided to go shopping on iTunes. I had a seven hour flight to Europe coming up and I thought it would be fun to grab some new music for the trip. I have a one-click account set up on iTunes and I've purchased a ton of music from them in the past, so I was expecting to spend a few minutes, drop a few bucks and leave with an iPod full of interesting new tunes.

Unfortunately, I had never browsed the iTunes Store before. Every time I had ever visited, I had something specifically in mind, typed the song title, album title or artists name into the search box, sorted through the results and made my purchase. It had never previously occurred to me to shop at the store and I certainly never had the time to window shop there.

After 15 minutes, to my utter amazement, I simply gave up. With coins still jingling in my pocket, I could not find anything that I wanted to buy. Why? The shopping experience was extremely sub-optimal. Songs were sorted by genre and artist, but not by my particular taste level. This is hard to do for a 49 year old who already owns over 200,000 songs. But, as AmazonMP3 demonstrated, it is far from impossible.

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Fast forward a few weeks and we come to my most recent musical shopping experience. It took me a nanosecond to hint to AmazonMP3 what I was looking for, and up it came. The album was $8.99 and it was paid for and in my iTunes/iPod in under five minutes. What an unbelievable difference.

I spend so much money at AmazonMP3 the other day, my credit card company called and asked me if it was a fraudulent purchase. I don't know if Amazon is an iTunes killer. According to everyone who is supposed to know something, Apple loses money on every song you purchase. The experts say that Apple makes money on hardware, not software. And, when you compare how much they charge for an 8GB player to other hardware on the market, you can get a sense of the size of the profit margin.

If Apple is still primarily a hardware play, Steve should call Jeff and thank him profusely. iTunes is a great way to manage your library. The iTunes store is not a great shopping experience. AmazonMP3 is a fantastic shopping experience and it's only going to get better. If Amazon can make money selling songs and Apple gets to sell more hardware to play them on — everybody wins. I don't see Amazon as a serious challenger to iTunes, it is the clear winner. Now, for the bad news … oh, wait — there isn't any.

About the Author: Shelly Palmer is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (2006, Focal Press). Shelly is also the 1st vice president of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY and Chairman of the Advanced Media Committee of the Emmy Awards. You can read Shelly's blog at http://www.emmyadvancedmedia.com. Shelly can be reached at shelly@palmer.net.

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