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Friday, 11 January 2008 08:36

Amazon signs Sony BMG for DRM-free music

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Amazon has taken the quadrella by signing Sony BMG as a supplier of DRM-free MP3 music.

Amazon MP3 opened last September with the key feature of offering only unprotected 256Kbps MP3 files. The initially participating labels were EMI and Universal plus a slew of independents.

Warner Music joined the roster in late December, and Sony BMG's arrival means Amazon has the big four sewn up.

"We are excited to be working with Amazon as they continue to build new markets for digital music," commented Thomas Hesse, president, global digital business and US sales, Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

Amazon MP3 generally matches or undercuts Apple's iTunes Store, with most per-track prices between $US0.89 and $US0.99. Apart from EMI, the big labels have shown a reluctance to sell unprotected music through the iTunes Store.

For its part, Apple has chosen to stick with AAC files whether or not DRM is applied. While MP3 requires larger files for a given audio quality, the format is more broadly supported by hardware manufacturers.

Bill Carr, Amazon.com vice president for digital music, said "Our Amazon MP3 customers will be able to choose from a full selection of DRM-free music downloads from all four major labels and over 33,000 independents that they can play on virtually any music-capable device."

MP3 files can be played on practically every computer as well as the iPod, iPhone, Zune, BlackBerry, and almost all music-capable phones and personal digital audio players, plus many recent CD and DVD players.

It's hard to view the way some major labels are allowing DRM-free sales through Amazon MP3 but not at the iTunes Store as anything other than a swipe at Apple, either because of its lion's share of the music download market or because of its insistence on fixed pricing. The danger the labels face is that Amazon MP3 could supplant Apple's current position as the 800lb gorilla in the market, leaving them hardly better off with the most popular tracks selling at lower prices.

While Apple would miss out on some music sales, the ready availability of unprotected tracks would make the iPod even more attractive to buyers. Furthermore, Amazon's MP3 Downloader application automatically transfers purchases into iTunes or Windows Media PLayer libraries.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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