Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Amazon's MP3 Downloads - A Recipe for Happiness

Amazon has provided MP3 downloads for purchase for some time now and I'm hardly likely to surprise you with that news. What I am going to do is tout how impressively simple and elegant (and cheap) downloading full album MP3s is from Amazon.

I've never liked iTunes Music Store (iTMS) primarily for two reasons:
  1. It requires iTunes (and for Linux users, that just ain't happening)
  2. It used to only give you DRM-infested music that was only playable on an iPod or iTunes
I don't like iTunes and never really have. That's my own opinion, you're welcome to yours. I also run Linux at home so that means even if I liked iTunes and could get it running (which is possible I hear) the iTMS part of iTunes would not work at all so I couldn't buy music.

I also don't like DRM (Digital Rights Management). That's not because I want to pirate music, but because I live in a digital age where I want to be able to copy and transfer my songs to whatever device I happen to be using at the time I want to listen to my music. DRM essentially says to a customer, "I don't trust you. I think you're a chump who deserves to pay me for the same item every time you want to use it (somewhere else)." Let's just say it doesn't leave me with a fuzzy feeling of appreciation for paying the artist for his or her work.

Along comes after the Big 4 record labels have been niggling with Apple to allow variable-priced songs and offers a variable-priced online music store with one condition - the music has to be DRM free. Either because the Big 4 were tired of Apple being uncooperative or because by now they had started to realize that consumers really hate DRM, they agreed.

Thankfully for us they did because now we can download songs individually or as albums from places like Amazon. Also because of Amazon, Apple started to offer DRM-free downloads for some of their music and are in talks with the Big 4 to have tiered pricing (not quite fully variable like the Big 4 want).

So why is this important at all? Because the consumer finally won! We finally get unencumbered digital downloads at reasonable prices for music we want. (No offense intended to customers since has been DRM free since its inception, but there is no mainstream offering to speak of in their catalog.)

Best of all (for me), Amazon (almost) fully supports all three major platforms for its download service. If you download single songs you don't need anything but your credit card and a web browser. If you want to download full albums (sometimes at a discount) you need to install Amazon's MP3 Download Application which is a very small application that runs on your machine and hooks into your browser. It does not take up much memory or disk space at all and doesn't attempt to be a music manager - simply a download manager. In Windows and OS X however, it will attempt to automatically add your downloaded music to iTunes or Windows Media Player if you wish. 64-bit Linux support doesn't really exist, but with a little finagling it can be done.

After installing the MP3 Downloader and testing it out with a free MP3 Amazon provides, I dove in and bought an album. With a high speed internet connection (15 Mbps download speed) I grabbed the full album in well under 1 minute. The quality is excellent (unless your an audiophile, but you don't buy MP3s anyway so why are you reading this?), and the price was below what I would have paid in a store for the CD.

The down side is of course that downloads are not free to re-download, so you'd better save that music someplace safe or burn it to CD. I personally keep my music collection on a shared network drive that is in a RAID array and periodically backed up to offline storage - but that's just me.

What's this all mean? It means if you're interested in returning to the legitimate side of music downloads after years of freeloading songs off of LimeWire and KaZaA, check out Amazon's MP3 Downloads - you'll be glad you did.

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  1. I like your comments about this. I feel the same towards downloading music, DRM and iTunes. Amazon's approach really seems good for the consumer.

  2. I think all the iTunes music is DRM free now. Your account name is embedded in the file somehow, but that seems reasonable enough. Although I use iTunes, I don't use the apple store very much as I have other legitimate sources I use more. (EMusic, for one.) I have used Amazon and it works very nicely -- as most of their stuff does.

  3. I thought iTunes music was still split - not everything was DRM free. In particular, I thought that $0.99 songs have the FairPlay(TM) DRM and the more expensive songs were DRM free.

    In any case, I'm happy enough with Amazon that I have no need to use iTunes. I know my wife still buys songs on there all the time though.