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Amazon to give music store a spin

Published May 17, 2007


SEATTLE - plans to open an online music store offering only songs that are free of copy-protection technology and can be played on anything from PCs to portable gadgets such as Apple's iPod or Microsoft's Zune.

The Internet retailer decided to steer clear of digital-rights management technology because consumers want to be able to listen to their music on any device they choose, executives said Wednesday.

The market-leading iPod, for instance, can't play copy-protected music purchased from Napster or RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody store. A Zune can't play tunes bought on iTunes. All players support music in the MP3 format.

Amazon's strategy "is helping to pave the way for a much better, much more customer-centric experience in digital music, " said Bill Carr, Amazon's vice president of digital media.

Amazon's music store wasn't unexpected, and the company is tearing a page out of Apple Inc.'s songbook by offering music that's not locked down by digital-rights management technology.

Like Apple's iTunes Store, Amazon will offer DRM-free songs from Britain's EMI Music Group PLC. Amazon also said it will offer millions of tunes from 12, 000 unnamed labels. Apple, however, will continue to sell copy-protected tunes.

Amazon said it would announce more labels when the service goes live later this year, but it did not identify a specific date.

Songs will be sold by the track or album, without a subscription option. Amazon didn't provide prices. Apple plans to charge $1.29 for tracks without DRM - 30 cents more than copy-protected songs. It also said the pricier tunes would feature enhanced sound quality.

Asked how Amazon plans to compete with Apple's market-leading iTunes store, Carr said the Web merchant has a huge customer base, with 66-million active accounts. He also touted the success of its CD store, which in the United States alone offers about 1-million titles.

Barney Wragg, head of EMI's global digital division, said the company thinks Amazon's entry in the digital music business will make an intensely competitive market even more competitive.

"Amazon has proven it's a really competitive, successful retailer in the CD business and we're very excited about having people who have a proven track record come into the download business, " Wragg said.

EMI also announced deals to sell music without copy restrictions in France, through Virgin Stores' VirginMega chain, and with several online music retailers in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Other music labels have released some tracks online without DRM either as part of experiments or sales promotions. Nevertheless, they insist that safeguards are still needed to stave off online piracy and make other digital music business models work.

Fast Facts:

Amazon's new tune

Some facts about's online music store, which will launch later this year:

- Only songs free of copy-protection technology will be sold.

- Songs will be able to be played on PCs and all portable devices.

- Millions of songs available from EMI and 12, 000 unnamed labels.

- Per-song and album prices not yet announced.

[Last modified May 17, 2007, 01:36:26]

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