Sunday, April 27, 2008

Music from the Amazon

For the longest time, the iTunes music store has pretty much dominated the music download market. Apple's service has a gigantic selection of music to choose from and they make it super easy to find that song you want to hear. But there's one downside to all this: most of the songs are protected by digital rights management or DRM. This puts limits on things like on what devices the songs will play and how many times a song can be copied. A song without these limitations is certainly a better deal for the customer, who can instead copy the song to as many devices as he desires and play the song on all of them.

Amazon, traditionally the book-selling behemoth of the interwebs, fairly recently started providing music for download. While it doesn't have the extensive selection iTunes is known for, all of Amazon's music is DRM free and encoded in the generic MP3 file format, giving you more freedom over how you can use the music you paid for.

Just today, I downloaded my first album off of this service. It was a pretty painless procedure, though there's a few things you should be aware of:

One - If you want to purchase an entire album, you've got to download this special "Amazon MP3 Downloader" software. It's always annoying when you have to install an entire application to do something as simple as downloading a couple of files. But one feature that takes the edge off of this inconvenience is that it automatically puts a copy of your songs in either your iTunes or Media Player (depending on your OS) library, saving you the small, but sometimes tedious, step of organizing your music by hand.

Two - They have no refund policy. Once your credit card is charged, there's no way to get your money back. Makes sense, since the product you're paying for can't get damaged the way it could if sent through the mail.

Three - You can only download your songs once. If your hard drive decides to stop working one day, that's it, they're gone. You can't download them again without paying a second time. While it doesn't take much effort on your part to make a backup, this still seems like a silly policy. Because the music is DRM-free and can be copied ad infinitum, it seems that what you're really paying for is permission to play the music, as opposed to the music itself.

This is what I like to think of Valve's Steam doing. Steam charges for downloadable content just like Amazon and iTunes does, only instead of charging for downloadable music, it charges for downloadable computer games. Since Steam lets you download the games you've paid for as many times as you want, it's charging you for permission to play the game--not necessarily the game itself. I don't see why Amazon couldn't implement a scheme like this as well.

In conclusion, despite the software it forces down your throat and the one time download limitation, I do indeed recommend Amazon's music download service. Its policy of providing DRM-free music for purchase is something that would be nice see amongst the larger music sellers. Always search Amazon for that song you want before looking anywhere else. DRM-free is the way to be!

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