Dropping Science on Amazon mp3

September 25th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  1 Comment

Amazon mp3 launched in open beta today. DRM-free music for prices competitive with iTMS. 2 million tracks seems like a lot, but iTMS claims “more than 6 million 99¢ songs.”

So I did some science.

I loaded up iTunes, added the “Last Played” column and sorted on that column in descending order. It’s a little odd because the last tracks played are from playlists for my morning run, which I build from anything running between 75 and 100 beats per minute (thanks Tangerine)*.

The results:

A green check () means “available on Amazon mp3,” a red x () means “not available on Amazon mp3.” A red x at the end of the line means “Not available on iTMS.”

The Shins – Pink Bullets (it’s there, but as a cover in “The Bluegrass Tribute to the Shins”)

Thievery Corporation & Verny Varela – Ambicion Eterna

The Shins – Fighting in a Sack

Thievery Corporation – The Cosmic Game

The Shins – New Slang (twice, as covers)

Meat Puppets – This Day ()

Elliott Smith – Alameda

Air – Ce Matin La

The Shins – Spilt Needles

Elliott Smith – Angeles

So, 50 percent of my last ten tracks. That didn’t convince because there are only five distinct groups/artists in there. So how about any ten rated between 3 and 5 stars, pulled at random?

Edd Byrnes – Kookie’s Mad Pad

The Feelies – What Goes On (but the VU original is there)

Public Enemy – Anti-Nigger Machine

The Clash – Somebody Got Murdered (but there are three covers)

Elliott Smith – A Question Mark

Moses Longpiece – Slide Her Under The Door (cue mock outrage)

R.E.M. – 7 Chinese Bros

The Shins – A Comet Appears

The Who – I’m Free

Juan Garcia Esquivel – Cherokee

One out of ten, and two from artists who were in the first list.

Overall: Six out of twenty were on Amazon. Fifteen out of twenty were on iTMS.

Conclusion: I think it’s worth looking at Amazon first. The lack of DRM and what Gruber’s describing as a simple, easy download process that snugs into iTunes fairly well, make the service competitive. Why buy a file I have to worry about in terms of authorizing/deauthorizing or playing back on any equipment besides what Apple approves? Or pay more for that privilege if iTMS happens to offer the unencumbered version?

One very minor nit with Amazon:

Amazon can tell me every order I’ve ever placed with it. If I didn’t know from looking at the page it provides, I’d know because it warns me when I’m looking at a product I’ve already bought. But I can only download a track once. I can think of at least one scenario where that makes a lot of sense, but overall it seems like unneeded caution. It’s negligible in light of the fact that Amazon’s mp3s free buyers from DRM lock-in and allow backups that won’t depend on a particular player or software in the future. Yes, Apple offers some unencumbered songs, but they cost more.

I hope Amazon’s catalog expands.

Oh … one other thing. I was curious about whether or not Amazon watermarks the files. Evidently it does, but not in any personally identifiable way. So the recording industry will certainly be able to tell if the tracks are being widely disseminated if it cares to sample file-sharing traffic for that, but not in any way that could incriminate individual users. Not at the moment, anyhow.

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* That bpm is about pace, not motivation. I used to be Mr. Chemical Brothers on runs until I realized the faster stuff just prematurely jacked up my heart rate.


  1. jbm says:

    September 30th, 2007 at 10:53 am (#)

    Hey, you have pretty good taste.

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