Say what you will about Apple’s dominion over the music industry, but for a while now they’ve maintained an artificially low market for music tracks by forcing labels to sell songs for 99 cents each. That era is over: in exchange for moving to a higher bitrate and going 100% DRM free (hooray) iTunes has officially introduced “variable pricing” (boo), which means each track may cost 69 cents, 99 cents, or $1.29—it all depends on the song and the label. It looks like Amazon has introduced variable pricing as well, although it’s mostly holding to the 99 cents threshold for now. Amazon’s tracks, by the way, have always been free of DRM.
Ars Technica points out that this may be an attempt by labels to spur album sales, since a $9.99 album price will now look like a better “discount” price when compared to a list of $1.29 singles.
We looked at “Poker Face,” the new hit from Eurovision winner Lady GaGa*, on both stores. On iTunes the track will cost you $1.29, while on Amazon it costs 99 cents. The same goes for “Boom Boom Pow” from the Black Eyed Peas.
As far as sound quality goes, iTunes uses 256 kbps AAC files, which produce a better sound than Amazon’s variable bit rate MP3 compression that aims for “an average of 256 kilobits per second (kbps).” To be fair, however, the average listener won’t know the difference. To download albums from Amazon you have to download and install a small helper app, but then again to download songs from iTunes Music Store you have to download and install an entire music management application (iTunes). What we’re saying is, for most consumers Amazon is the better alternative at this moment.
* correction: we have been told that transsexual recording artist Lady GaGa has never competed in a Eurovision competition.**
**correction: it turns out Lady GaGa is not a transsexual.