Amazon antagonizes Apple with DRM-free music (and but is it art?)

Hey-la, day-la, it's Thursday's IT Blogwatch: in which Amazon.com announces that it'll sell DRM-free music. Not to mention Bill Shackelford's "spamtrap" art installation...

Todd R. Weiss has the scoop:

Online retailer Amazon.com Inc. is taking on Apple Inc.'s iTunes music service and the rest of the digital music industry by starting up its own online digital music store. And as part of the deal, Amazon.com is partnering with record label EMI Group PLC to offer millions of MP3-formatted songs for sale in an improved, premium format that does away with digital rights management (DRM) protection.

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For consumers, today's announcement means they will be able to buy the songs from Amazon.com and play them freely on as many digital music devices as they want. Music buyers will be able to play the songs on their PCs, Apple Macintosh computers, Apple iPods, Microsoft Zune players, Creative Labs Zen players and many other devices.

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The digital music store will be launched later this year. The songs to be offered in the new store will come from more than 12,000 record labels.

Scott McNulty briefly boggles:

I had no idea that 12,000 music labels existed.

Owen Thomas decodes:

Amazon touts the fact that it has signed up 12,000 labels - but then again, EMusic, an online music store which has long offered DRM-free music, has 13,000 labels, most of them tiny. It's not the number of labels that matters, but whether you have the songs people want.

For Amazon, though, that's not likely to matter. Amazon's real interest is to keep people shopping. I'd wager that, like Apple, Amazon will make more money selling music players than selling music downloads. By not tying its store to a single player, as others have done, Amazon won't offend customers who have bought an incompatible player. And I'll also bet that they'll spend a lot less money on customer support than rival running buggy DRM software.

Going DRM-free pretty much guarantees Amazon won't have the biggest music store around - but it will have one of the smartest.

Jeffrey McManus cheers:

Hooray. This is exciting not just because DRM blows, but because having more than one major DRM-free vendor in the market will serve as a market counterweight to iTunes' "OK, we'll take off the DRM, but charge you 30% more" calculus.

A lot of my opposition to DRM stems from not from some high-minded principle, but the simple fact that I use a lot of different devices to listen to music. I have a desktop machine, a laptop with a virtual machine running inside of it, a couple of iPods, a couple of car CD players, and our Tivo, and I want to listen to my music on all of them. I don't care to have to have a debate with all those devices over whether I have permission to listen the music I paid for on them.

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If Amazon applies what they know about discoverability to their music store, I could see myself buying a lot of music there.

David Card is hungry for info.:

No word on pricing, but Amazon assured me they strive to offer low prices, and that careful observers will note that CDs have a lot of variety in their price points. No comments on bit-rate/quality, preloaded devices, whether or not there will be Amazon software, discovery tools other than recommendations, which are a key part of the current CD offering, exclusives or in-house recordings, etc. They'll sell songs and albums; no comment on playlists.

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Anyway, aside from lack of details, this is a big, big deal, and a critical entrant into the digital music space. Amazon knows how to sell music, what it sells will run on any PC or device -- including iPods -- without copying or burning restrictions, and it's (presumably) laying down the law on DRM and formats. Of course its catalog will be crippled at least initially, and it will have a difficult time making money on $1 or thereabouts sales. However, Amazon's a master of upselling, and has zero customer acquisition costs. It should do just as well as any other store, likely better.

I'd still like to see Amazon do an on-demand service, probably subscription rather than ad-based, someday...

Won't somebody show Matt Buchanan the money?:

The MP3-only move is an obvious swipe at Apple ... Of course, a real swipe at Apple would be to offer the tracks for 99 cents, undercutting them by roughly 25 percent, but no price or launch date was mentioned by Amazon. Of course, you'll know when we do. Regardless, the music download market's starting to get real interesting.

Let's just hope Amazon has the balls to take it up a notch. Or rather, down a notch. 99 cents. Come on, guys, make yourselves a real competitor against iTunes and kick-start the market. The sooner we get this going, the better for all of us: consumers, distributors, the industry, and the artists.

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Looks like an end-of-the-month, surprise head-to-head showdown with Apple is out of the cards, so Amazon better have something slammin' up their sleeve with the lead time iTunes is going to have on them.

Glenn Peoples looks further abroad:

EMI also had two other related announcements today. In France, VirginMega will sell EMI tracks as DRM-free, higher-quality downloads. The downloads will be 320kbps MP3 files; the existing format will also be available.

And In Scandanavia, EMI has an agreement with multiple online and mobile operators to sell premium, DRM-free downloads in the coming months.

Joe Weisenthal drops da bomb:

The question, now, is whether the company will apply the lesson to its unsuccessful movie download service, which has been hampered by onerous copy protection and the attendant lack of usability. If the company wants to avoid being an also-ran, it needs to get out in front of Apple and be the first to explain to Hollywood why it would be better off if it dropped its useless insistence on DRM.

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... "Spamtrap" is an interactive installation piece that prints, shreds and blacklists spam

He's back (and you're gonna be in trouble). Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at blogwatch@richi.co.uk. Hey he knows I wasn't cheatin'. Now you're gonna get a beatin'.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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