Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tuning in the Amazon

Ken's dead on about the new music store. It's a good example of the free marketplace at work -- and it may very well be a market indicator.

We sometimes forget that there were many online music stores before iTunes -- only a few of which are still with us. iTunes brought uniform pricing ($0.99 a track) and the least onerous DRM -- the limits were loose enough that most people could pretty much do what they wanted to with the music. That magic combination brought on legal download music boom.

But there were some downsides -- there was still some DRM which meant (among other things), that iTunes purchases could only be played on iPods (we won't go into the work-arounds with this post). And all the downloaded tracks were 128Kbps files -- pretty much the minimal exceptable rate for sound quality.

When EMI and iTunes announced their deal to offer DRM-free tracks, they sweeted the pot a little. The new tracks will cost $1.29, and will be 256Kbps files. Not only can you do what you want to with the tracks, but the sound quality will be significantly better.

And there's some speculation that Amazon may take a similar tack and offer tracks at 192Kbps.

Which may give consumers a choice -- get the cheap version that's a little clunky to use and sounds OK, or spend a little more and get a better sounding version that you can use any way you want. I don't think we'll see a complete blowout for either choice.

There are some songs that I'm marginally interested in -- I wouldn't mind having a copy for 0.99. Songs I really like, though, I would want to own at the best possible sound quality, and would be willing to pay accordingly. Will the buying public agree? We may soon find out.

- Ralph

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