Amazon's MP3 store is actually pretty good when held up against the iTunes
Music Store. You can use it in a web browser with the familiar Amazon
interface, which is actually pretty comforting. If you are just buying
single songs, it can just download like any other file, but since they
won't let you redownload purchases (argh to both Amazon and iTunes!), and
can't let you do this for album purchases, you really have to use their
Mac/Windows downloader for your own safety if nothing else. Now, granted, I
usually just lose interest at this point, and would have with Apple too if
it didn't magically appear in an update to an application I was already
using...but I gave it a try.
The downloader is a minimal application that just gives you a progress bar
and adds songs to your iTunes library automatically (but not the "Purchased"
playlist, unfortunately, but you can do that manually). It appears Amazon
didn't want to put any features into this downloader app, but rather just
make the process more idiot^H^H^H^H^Hfail proof, which was probably a good
call. It simply serves as glue to make this more or less equal to the iTunes
Music Store experience. While it's obviously not as tightly integrated, the
overall experience basically feels like iTMS and bridges the differences
acceptably, so users shouldn't feel too scared to try it. They even give you
a free song to demonstrate what using the downloader app will be like. In the
end, when you're looking at your iTunes library and syncing your iPod, any
differences between the stores matter not one bit.
Using the downloader app is probably roughly the same experience if using
Windows, either iTunes or Windows Media Player.
It's interesting that the store's front page pictures an iPod playing a
Radiohead album, since that band is still conspicuously absent from iTMS,
but very available from Amazon. It's also nice that you can choose to buy
the retail disc instead of the MP3s, for the one time in your life that you'd
rather do that.
The fact that Amazon is doing 256k MP3s is really smart. I don't know how
they pulled that off with the record labels. Not dealing with DRM basically
opened them up to anything that plays music, including no-hassle iTunes/iPod
integration. Making that deal is all the difference in the world. No
screwing around with finding devices that can play Windows Media, or AAC, or
some encrypted crap, just download and go. Want to burn a disc? No problem!
Want to play it on that ancient music player no one's heard of? No problem!
Not having to make a Faustian bargain with a merchant to use the content I
purchased is fantastic. I like this about iTunes Plus, too, but that hasn't
seen any momentum after the initial announcement, not to mention that
it costs significantly more. I really don't know how Amazon pulled this off.
Either this is costing them dearly, or the labels just really want to stick
it to Steve JObs. Maybe both.
Amazon really does seem best positioned to compete here, due to all their
existing market infrastructure and customer base. It's astonishing no one
did this before. It's nice to have options, but I could see myself going to
Amazon much more than iTMS, starting right now. Could be interesting.
Also, I still don't understand why Valve will let me redownload 50 gigabytes
worth of games when I switch machines, no questions asked, but I can't
recover an 89 cent, 5 megabyte song from either Apple or Amazon if my hard
disk crashes. I predict that there will be a news story some day about
someone that diligently backs up his thousands of dollars of music purchases,
and still loses it when his house burns down; the headline will be
"Apple ignores homeless man's pleas" when they refuse to let him recover
his music collection. The negative publicity will make them change their