Amazon MP3 Sets the Pace for Digital Downloads

Amazon just entered the digital music download fray and they’ve just set the gold standard. The price is right, the quality is great, and since it’s straight MP3 you can use it on pretty much every digital music playing device ever made. Downloading Ministry’s “Rio Grande Dub(ya)” was a snap and the required download manager is simple and unobtrusive. It may not be the closed-loop system of iTunes+iPod or Zune+Marketplace but it’s close enough that I think a lot of people will dip their toes in the water, especially with the Amazon name behind it.

To be fair has been offering DRM-free MP3 downloads for years but their biggest weakness has always been satisfying the Top 40 crowd. While you can find great albums like Beirut’s “The Flying Club Cup” you won’t find Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape“. EMusic is closer to that great indie record store that sometimes has Top 40 albums but you know the real focus is the off-the-beaten-path gems tucked among the aisles.

My biggest question is where is Microsoft in all of this DRM-free loving? Even Apple has conceded that users may want less restrictions on their music by offering to over-charge customers for DRM-free tracks yet the Zune Marketplace still staunchly holds onto the DRM model of business. Microsoft is the new kid on the block in terms of online music yet they already seem like an anachronism without any attempt so far to really embrace “the social”. The rumor is that October is going to see a new crop of Zune players and they had better update more than just the hardware. Unless there is a major update to the Zune ecosystem then they’re going to fail.

Amazon has a winner on it’s hands and it’ll be interesting to see both where they are headed as well as the industry’s reaction to this bold and welcome move.