Just How Good Is The New Amazon MP3 Store?

A reviewer at TidBITS gives a non-technical review of the new Amazon music store, a direct competitor to iTunes Music Store that Amazon launched last week. Their verdict? The download software could use work, but overall it’s “not too shabby.”

The big benefit of the new Amazon offering is by now pretty well known: Amazon isn’t putting any copy protection on the tracks they sell (in other words, they’re “DRM-free”), so you can play the mp3 files on as many devices as you like, and not just on iPods (or Zunes, or Sansas, etc.). They’re also using a different pricing structure that’s closer to what the labels have been fighting for: less than a dollar for many older or less popular tracks, and more than a dollar for some new hits. This means some albums are $8 or less, while some new ones are closer to CD prices.

TidBITS had some small problems with the Amazon MP3 downloader, but nothing so bad that it would break the service for you. But, as they put it, “it’s not as though Amazon can ever get as close to the iPod as Apple can” in terms of making it easy to buy and sync songs.”

One thing the review doesn’t cover is the limited song selection at Amazon—they have around 2 million, compared to Apple’s. But these two reviews both go into more detail about the pros and cons of the new service. Overall, it definitely seems worth checking out before you make your next iTunes purchase.

“Amazon MP3 Takes on the iTunes Store” [TidBITS]

“Amazon MP3 vs. Apple iTunes: Where Should You Shop?”
“Amazon MP3: a quick review”


Edit Your Comment

  1. smakdphat says:

    One application to browse the album.
    Another application to download the album.
    A third Application to listen to the album.


  2. hypnotik_jello says:

    @smakdphat: I’d rather that than deal with DRM

  3. NickRB says:

    It’s totally a pain in the ass right now. But it’s not an Apple product so we can be sure that the Consumerist would give it good marks.

  4. ratnerstar says:

    I was intrigued by this new service and I like Amazon in general, so I decided to give it a try even though I’m pretty happy with ITMS for buying music digitally.

    1) I wanted to buy the new Iron & Wine album. Amazon didn’t have it (but I got in through ITMS).
    2) I found another album I was interested in, so (after installing the downloader app) I clicked on the “Buy This Album” button.
    3) Nothing happened. Well, not “nothing” exactly; my credit card was charged nine bucks. But no music.
    4) I wrote Amazon customer service, and in just about 24 hours a very nice service rep had remedied the problem. Good on them!

    As advertised, the downloader integrates relatively seamlessly with iTunes. But given their somewhat limited selection and the fact that it took nearly a day to get the album, I’m not exactly sold.

  5. e-gadgetjunkie says:

    I don’t think I would call their selection limited. I like Broadway and most of the more obscure soundtracks aren’t available from other download services. They are from Amazon.

  6. Charles Duffy says:

    @NickRB: Huh? NO DRM!

    That’s the whole bloody reason I’ve never bought music online from completely legitimate sources — I don’t want to pay to be locked into specific software. Claiming that this is some kind of anti-Apple bias is silly; if Apple offered their entire catalog in unencumbered MP3 format, I’d be all over that too.

    Having a legitimate online music store with major labels, semi-reasonable prices and no DRM is huge.

  7. hypnotik_jello says:

    @NickRB: Really, I thought it would be the fact that DRM is anti-consumer, and hence Amazon not having DRM would be pro-consumer.

    That could possibly be it.

  8. …they have around 2 million, compared to Apple’s.

    Compared to Apple’s what?

  9. Anonymous says:

    You don’t have to use Amazon’s downloading software; you can just download the MP3 directly to your hard drive, just as you would any other file you’re downloading. Since I don’t want to deal with anybody’s proprietary crap, the ability to download directly is great.

  10. in2insight says:

    Now, if one of them would start offering 90 second previews, they would be the winner in my book!

  11. harumph says:

    i used it last week. the initial loading of the software wasn’t super clear or direct but after that it was fine. the mp3’s are of a high bitrate too. at least apple has a little competition now and will maybe rethink the drm strategy.

  12. Goatweed says:

    how high of a bitrate are they? I generally rip my own stuff at 224, I find 192 do be ok and anything less to be substandard. MP3 is a lossy format so if I’m paying close to what a cd costs I’d want the bitrate to be as close to the cd as possible.

  13. Buran says:

    Why not just do what some sites do for downloads and present a list of direct links to the files (music, documents, video, whatever) that you’re then instructed to grab with a download manager? You then drag and drop into the viewer of your choice.

  14. I bought the new Joni Mitchell album through Amazon’s service. Anyone who uses eMusic should be used to this type of external download application, which I do find a bit clunky. However, the songs downloaded without a hitch, and I just dragged them into iTunes. The sound quality is excellent and the album was cheaper on Amazon than it would’ve been on iTunes (and was DRM-free).

    As someone who has used the ITMS since the day it launched, I’m shocked to say that they’ve lost a customer. Amazon.com’s service, while it contains fewer offerings, works better for me: the albums are cheaper, the sound quality is better, and there’s no DRM. What more could a guy want?

  15. The bitrate is 256.

  16. zentec says:

    Tried it, it’s okay. It certainly doesn’t have the experience that iTunes does, and it doesn’t have the uncanny ability to tempt me into buying more songs than I intended on purchasing (nice job iTunes “Just For You”). However, my wife came for Fiest and walked away with a new cordless telephone, so I’m not sure Amazon is any better.

    Nevertheless, it’s cheap and it’s a welcome feature to be able to toss the songs over to another family member’s iPod without having to burn them to CDs. Which, for DRM Nazis, is exactly how the world works when we spend $17 for a CD anyway.

  17. hypnotik_jello says:

    It’s VBR-256

  18. Goatweed says:

    256 – that’s not too bad at all.

  19. Yourhero88 says:

    This combined with amazon’s “Unbox” video download system could really be a nice alternative to iTunes, if they do it right. Hell, it might even make the Zune worth buying!

  20. Buran says:

    @loquaciousmusic: It’d be nice if iTunes went AAC DRM-free only for all tracks and kept the 99-cent pricing, but until that happens I’m not using them either.

  21. MonkeyMonk says:

    I also tried the new Amazon store and was pleasantly surprised. If I had to choose between DRM-less iTunes and Amazon I’d certainly be willing ro use whoever offered the best price. I still won’t buy DRM’ed iTunes tracks, period.

    My favorite Amazon feature is the ability to listen to samples of every track on the entire album with a single click. iTunes used to provide these as free downloads for bigger releases but I haven’t noticed them in ages.

  22. randombob says:



  23. wishlish says:

    I bought three albums on Amazon this weekend. Only problem I had was that it kept telling me my credit card was declined when it shouldn’t have been, but a reclick fixed that. The software was easy to use, and it loaded my songs into iTunes easily. I’ve got the songs on my iPod now, and they sound great. I highly recommend the service.

    Unbox, on the other hand, is terrible. DRM to the max. If they untether Unbox, I could really see using that.

  24. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    I used the service to buy a couple albums. Worked flawlessly once I installed the app. I love it. I’ve now spent $35 more dollars at the Amazon MP3 store than I ever have spent on iTunes. And yes, I spent just $35.
    The real great thing about it was there was a sense of permanency to it: I bought the songs. They are mine. I can listen to them on my computer, in the car, on an iPod, on a Creative Zen, on my Treo, on a CD, blah blah blah. I don’t have to worry about moving computers, changing players, changing standards, etc.
    Bravo Amazon. Bravo.

  25. atalantapendragonne says:

    I took a peek at the Amazon mp3 store, bought and downloaded a song (without their downloading program) with no problem. I *would* like it if they had a bigger selection, but there are some nice obscure albums available. I’m almost certain to buy from them again; no DRM, and unlike eMusic you don’t have to subscribe or anything.

  26. hollerhither says:

    As a Rio (early adopter), Zen, and Sansa household, I’m psyched about this. I was using Musicmatch, which wasn’t great to begin with, really went down the tubes after Yahoo “integrated” it, and…it had DRM. I didn’t want to pay a monthly fee a la eMusic.

    I didn’t have any problems with the downloader and the sample song, but I haven’t made a purchase yet. Agreed that Amazon has good customer service, and they already get so much of my money anyway, so why not. Anything they don’t have I can usually fill in via my local used CD outlet.

  27. ClutchDude says:

    I bought two albums off the service so far. It’ll be key if they can keep/expand the current selection before others try jack the prices. The quality is pretty good regardless of the format.I actually got 500+Kbits for some parts of a song.

    My biggest complaint is that I cannot redownload a song/album. Yes, I know I can/will back it up once I get it. However, I know Amazon has the song and they know I’ve bought it. Why must I buy it again to just get it from them? Is bandwidth that expensive compared to developing the system to manage the transactions and such?

  28. alicetheowl says:

    Is this no longer on Beta?

    If not, shouldn’t they be adding more music in its final version?

    To me, it seems like a good idea. I’ve been able to find a few (older) tracks I couldn’t dig up on iTunes or Napster, and not being crippled by the DRM crap is definitely a plus.

  29. No DRM, but the files are watermarked .. see gizmodo


  30. Anonymous says:

    You don’t HAVE to install the software “suggested” by Amazon to get the MP3s from them. If you don’t have their software installed, when you click to purchase the song, it’ll download just like any other item.

  31. hypnotik_jello says:

    @structuralpoke: I have a multitude of different hardware I would like to be able to play the music I own a license to without being encumbered by draconian rights management. It’s called fair use [and it has a posse!]

    And if you read the gizmodo article it said watermarking is only for tracing where the song was bought vs. who bought it.

  32. Trai_Dep says:

    I think that more competition is better, although variable pricing is annoying, and anything that’s not cross platform is annoying.

    Only plea I have is – for gods’ sakes – don’t blame Apple for DRM. It’s the labels’ fault. If Apple could, they would. End of story. :)

    Used bins, Amoeba Records, still my preferred choice however. :D

  33. Chicago7 says:

    I just got an 80GB iPod? What the heck is wrong with iTunes? It just sucks. I have about 15,000 songs and it’s been uploading from iTunes to the iPod for 2 full days now. And I have “all the connect to internet, get album art, etc” stuff disabled.

    On my Dell, this would take about 3 hours.

  34. Dibbler says:

    I tried Amazon last night and I just bought one song from one album and that one never showed up. I bought another whole album and that one worked perfect though for some reason it took like 30 minutes to download the album which seemed really slow. Still waiting on the first single song I bought so I guess I’ll need to call / e-mail them…

  35. Groovymarlin says:

    I really wanted to like it but so far it’s a giant pain in the ass. It was not clear to me that the weird Amazon downloader was NOT required to download, so I tried it, and it didn’t work behind the firewall at my office. Of course I was charged for the songs even though I couldn’t download them. Now that I learn from the comments here that the downloader is NOT required, I’m trying to download the songs from my order details on Amazon, but I can’t find ANYWHERE to actually download them. My “Media Library” says that they were “already downloaded.” So I’m contacting customer service in order to get my measly $2.67 worth of MP3s. I doubt I will ever use the Amazon service again, it’s just too clunky and buggy compared to ITMS.

  36. @Groovymarlin: I haven’t used the Amazon service personally, but according to the reviews I’ve read, you have to use their downloader program if you purchase full albums–otherwise you can just click and download.

    But I agree that you should also be able to re-download the files. If you “own” the media, it should remain available in your media library. (Or heck, Amazon could even make some extra money on cheap storage fees for people who want “insurance.”)

  37. GinaLouise says:

    I can’t stand DRM, so I was thrilled to hear about Amazon’s service. It was a bit clunky at first to get set up, but afterwards the downloads went very smoothly. I was able to find most of my favorite rock en espanol bands, and the best part is — NO DRM! I really hope consumers get behind this service.

  38. agb says:

    @Chicago7: You have your iPod plugged into a USB 1 port. Take your iPod out of your keyboard and plug it into the back of your computer.

  39. Pop Socket says:

    @agb: My computer won’t support USB 2.0 but has a great firewire connection. I had a rude awakening when I replaced my 30GB 3-gen with a 60GB iPodVideo. Took over 10 hours to upload the first 20GB. What a nightmare.

  40. razor3 says:

    I was pretty excited to see an alternative to iTunes & after downloading the Amazon mp3 software I decided to test out the system. I have a balance on my Amazon gift certificate account of about $12 so I thought that I would get one album and a couple songs. WRONG! Amazon does not give you the option to use a GC to buy mp3s on their site. When I asked them about this they replied…
    “Due to the nature of the content, we are unable to accept Gift Certificates as payment for music downloads at this time.”