Shawn Oster (gravatar)

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.


  • I've shifted from being bright-eyed about the Zune to cautious with a tinge of hope. I still don't count it out as a flop, I usually give a product a full 12 months before I make that judgment and their numbers while not amazing are on par or above some of the other non-iPod competitors. If you called a product a flop simply because it had a small percentage of the market then we'd have to call Delphi a flop and I'm not ready to do that :) I do agree though that the Zune 2.0 is going to have to really re-invent itself, it started as that hip indie kid that doesn't go with the crowd but now it's become the creepy old guy still trying to wear what all the cool kids are.I'm not so sure about Apple, I feel they're starting to lose just a little bit of their shine. Dropping the iPhone price so quickly has left a pretty bad taste in the mouths of a lot of the iPhone users I know and the Touch is having to play middle child between the iPhone and iPod. The Touch has almost all the features of the iPhone but lacks just enough to not make it a full PDA replacement yet as a straight media player it's laughable at only 16GB. That gorgeous Touch screen is just begging for video which will chew through 16GB like a puppy through shoes plus anyone that can afford to drop $400 for one probably amassed a digital music library larger than 16GB years ago. An 80GB Touch? Now *that* would be a market crushing product.Of course me saying Apple is losing some of it's shine is like saying the sun is getting a bit dimmer, they can afford to be a bit less shiny.

  • Steve Trefethen (gravatar)

    Steve Trefethen said
    February 27, 2008

    Great comment, made me laugh!I think you're spot on with your "'s becoming the creepy old guy". That's going to be an image that's hard to shake. Also notice the advertising for the Zune has seemingly dried up whereas even with the small amount of TV I watch I see ads for Apple's new devices. I can't even recall a TV ad for the Zune.The issues you're calling out regarding the Touch is a classic Apple game plan that's worked very, very well. Bring out the device, then scale it out with multiple levels of capacity. At 16GB their just scratching the surface though that should easily get them through this xmas season.Personally, I'm excited about the Apple TV and iPod Touch and both of those devices have me considering a trip to the store. It's funny, my main machine now is a MacBook Pro and my wife uses a Mac Mini. We also own two iPods and I might not be able to hold out regarding the Touch.I think BillG said it best in the interview he and Steve Jobs did when asked "What's great about Steve?" and his reply was his creativity and design prowess.Personally, I'm interested to see what Apple does with Apple TV as it's very close to the device I want to be able to share my PC into my family room.Anyway, good chatting with you!

  • Agreed, Apple has mastered the art of market research and penetration. Most companies release a very cheap 1.0 version to entice and get feedback while Apple introduces products as over-priced (ahem, "high end") luxury items which is brilliant because people tend to find ways to justify lack of features since they've just spent so much and are satisfied with early shortcomings because it's still a "luxury item" which trades on more than features, it trades on "cool". Because so few units are initially produced (relatively) you don't end up with a huge 1.0 stockpile while everyone waits around for 2.0. When the next versions come out people are ravenous and it's usually much better. Apple TV has a lot of potential but still falls short IMO. Having to go to iTunes on a computer for purchases pretty much kills it for the wife while for me there *needs* to be an integrated programing guide and tuner, multiple tuners and CableCARD support would be even better. I know some people are satisfied with the selection and price but if you have to keep a cable or dish around for what iTunes is missing then it's way too expensive. In a way I see Apple TV as Apple's Zune; it's been out for awhile and hasn't made any significant progress and doesn't offer anything unique. Something like the Touch can get away with being underwhelming because it has such a cool interface and is a good placebo for those wanting an iPhone but there is nothing new or innovative about Apple TV, it's not even doing something "better" or "cooler" than anyone else. I believe that the only reason it exists is because Apple was concerned they might lose iTunes video revenue if they didn't have a way for people to view content on their new shiny 50" plasmas and LCDs.For an iTunes delivery vehicle Apple TV rocks, mostly because it's the only one, yet for a Tivo replacement or Media Center contender it doesn't even compete. All that being said I do like quite a bit about Apple products, I was *this* close to buying a MacBook Pro for my dev laptop but honestly it was price that killed it. The HP dv9000 that I ended up getting was $1500 while the exact same spec'd MacBook Pro was $3200. Plus I have a weird need for a 10-key numpad. Hey, I'm old school, I was using computers before those dedicated Home/End/Arrow keys on keyboards so now I'm hard-wired to navigate code via the 10-key pad.Really it boils down to the fact that no one has yet nailed the computer -> digital media -> tv entertainment trinity and it's anyones game.

  • Steve Trefethen (gravatar)

    Steve Trefethen said
    February 27, 2008

    I've only ever seen one Zune in the wild, that was Michael Swindell's shortly after it came out. Costco carried them for a little while but iPods are a seemingly permanent fixture as you walk in the door here in Santa Cruz.If I had to guess I'd say the Zune was such a flop that MS would need to reinvent it along with a store experience that far exceeds the iPod Touch/iTunes combination to remain a viable product.IMO, the iPod touch is the device that's going to extend Apple's dominance in the portable music market for the next several years.

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