Another Player in the Digital Music Revolution: Amazon Trying to Challenge iTunes?

Announced recently, it seems that now Amazon will also be getting involved in what equates to the frontier of digital music, attempting to stake their own claim by offering unprotected mp3 downloads. Everyone knows Amazon is one of the Internet juggernauts and is involved in much of the digital fringe, so this isn't really a shocking announcement. Whether it will prove to be successful remains to be seen, but it does seem like a pretty shrewd business decision and maybe even a step towards the perfect music store.

Music shoppers are an odd bunch with a wide range of characteristics.

Some are purely trackers of the next big thing with tastes rotating week to week, day to day and even hour to hour. Others collect only their favorite songs and leave the rest on the shelves. Others buy albums when necessary or worthwhile and supplement their collection with a hefty set of songs that are great, but they aren't into enough to buy a complete album. Others are like me: obsessive about music and desire to not only own great songs by our favorite artists, but every album the band released, in a physical, high quality format suitable for collecting. Others still, are not only obsessive about music, but are also complete audiophiles. They not only collect albums, but collect nothing less than vinyl whenever possible, to only be played on high end stereos where the complete fidelity of the recording can be heard in the best and most authentic quality available.

This presents an interesting problem. How can a single industry cater to all of these types of music shoppers and create a great place to purchase music for everyone?

The answer is to have a music store with a wide selection where you can easily pick the format that you want your music in. That way if a person prefers it in digital format, they can download it, or if they want it in CD or on record, or even on audio cassette... they can purchase that format. I understand why companies do not want to provide this kind of flexibility: it's an inventory and production nightmare. Still in a perfect world, this store, lets call it the Multi Format Music Store, is where we would want to shop for music as it can easily cater to all the types of music shoppers.

Well, Amazon may have just taken a step in the right direction: offer downloads right next to CDs. Known for an above average selection of CDs as is, Amazon is also one of the few places I've seen where you can easily buy used LP records right next to their CD counterparts, (I haven't seen any new releases from some of the groups that still release on record, for sale on Amazon yet). To add music downloads to Amazon's capabilities seem like quite a shrewd business decision in terms of understanding your audience, and maybe one step towards my Multi Format Music Store.

Whether it will actually take off and prove to be a major force in the music industry remains to be seen as there are a few remaining problems with digital music as a whole, including the quality of mp3s and the large numbers of record labels that haven't even hinted at releasing their music digitally yet. Both of these things, plus competition from a massive company like Apple, will surely hinder Amazon's foray into the music download market.

So maybe it wasn't such a shrewd business decision after all? Guess we'll wait and see...

As always, I'm just sitting back and watching the digital music news from the perspective concerned music collector. With each new player introduced and each new twist, the story gets more interesting.

Eventually though, all of the frontier of digital downloads will be divided up and we'll see if all these players can play nice together, or if music consumers will suffer.

When the dust settles, as long as I can still buy high quality recordings in some physical, collectible format, at a reasonable price... I'll be happy.

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -