DRM protection a no-show in Amazon.com's planned online music store

Digital music fans will be able to play tracks on any device

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.

Last month, EMI announced its overall move to DRM-free tracks and an initial deal with Apple to sell the premium downloads alongside Apple's standard iTunes DRM-equipped tracks.

For consumers, today's annnouncement 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.

In the announcement, Seattle-based Amazon.com said 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, according to the online retailer.

No pricing was announced, and an Amazon.com spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Apple's iTunes online store sells the new EMI premium songs for $1.29 each, an increase of 30 cents per song over the normal iTunes price of 99 cents per song.

"Our MP3-only strategy means all the music that customers buy on Amazon is always DRM-free and plays on any device," Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, said in a statement. "We're excited to have EMI joining us in this effort and look forward to offering our customers MP3s from amazing artists like Coldplay, Norah Jones and Joss Stone."

Eric Nicoli, the CEO of EMI, said in a statement that the Amazon.com deal will be good for music buyers.

"Amazon.com is synonymous with a great consumer experience, and they have become an important retail partner of ours," Nicoli said. "I applaud Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com for making this move. Their arrival in the digital music market will offer even more consumer choice and will be a big advance in addressing the lack of interoperability, which has frustrated many music fans."

Jeanne Meyer, an EMI spokeswoman, said the company will still offer DRM-enabled music to consumers through various music services. But that strategy could change in the future. "We're going to see how it goes," she said.

By offering premium-priced DRM-free music, it "doesn't mean that we won't continue to fight piracy," Meyer added.

Globally, only about 10% of all music sold is through paid downloads, she said, with 90% still sold on manufactured CDs from entertainment companies. "We think it's more important to offer a good consumer experience and trust consumers" that they won't illegally copy or distribute the music that they buy. "I think they will respond in kind. That is what our belief is.

"For the time being, DRM is not working for downloads and we are trying to change that," Meyer said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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