Is Apple’s iTunes store about to face its biggest challenger to date? If the eventual product is as good as was advertised, that could be the case. On Wednesday, Amazon announced plans for a digital music store (to be launched later this year), which will offer millions of songs, all free of what consumers have said is their biggest gripe about purchasing music online – digital copyright protection.
Amazon revealed that it has already inked a deal with EMI Group, home to such musical acts as Pink Floyd and Coldplay, to sell digital audio files without any DRM attached. This will enable the purchaser to use the file on whichever portable audio device is prefered, as opposed to being locked in, as with purchasing music from the iTunes Store, Rhapsody, or similar stores.
The announcement that EMI has agreed to a deal marks the second time that an online retailer has said it will offer that label’s artists free of copyright protection. It was just last month, after Apple head Steve Jobs revealed he wishes all studios would go DRM-free, that Apple said it was now in partnership with EMI.
EMI has also revealed it has inked similar deals with VirginMega in France, and with a variety of online sellers scattered throughout Scandanavia. “Amazon.com’s deep understanding of consumers and vast knowledge of music paves the way for a smooth entry into the digital arena,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group, in an interview with Reuters. “Their arrival in the digital music market will be a big advance in addressing the lack of interoperability, which has frustrated many music fans.”
According to Amazon, its store will initially offer music from more than 12,000 different music labels, although only the deal with EMI has officialy been announced. No pricing was announced, although Russ Crupnick, an analyst with the NPD Group, told Bloomberg News he feels Amazon’s pricing will be “competitive” with that offered by Apple. Currently, Apple offers most songs for 99 cents, with the EMI catalog of unrestricted songs a bit pricier (and higher bitrate as well), for $1.29 per track.
The recording industry has long championed DRM, which restricts how a digital file may be altered, distributed, and played. Customer rights advocates have responded by charging that the record labels are slow to embrace technology, and that their position is hypocritical, as millions of CDs are sold every day without any copy protection.
Other labels have not hurried to jump behind EMI’s abandoning of DRM, however. Edgar Bronfman Jr., head of Warner Music Group, said that his labels still see DRM as an “important element” of how he plans to do business. This has led some to speculate that in the coming months, those labels still requiring DRM may make a push to form their own online store, although it is not clear how that would affect any current deals with either Apple or Amazon.