Amazon.com gets onto MP3 music bandwagon

Amazon.com Inc. has launched Public Beta of Amazon MP3, a digital music store, signaling competition for Apple Inc.’s iTunes, and eMusic, the two big players in the digital music downloads business.

While iTunes predominantly uses a proprietary DRM (digital rights management) for its music downloads, eMusic offers music downloads in the MP3 format, without DRM protection. Downloads without DRM come without copy restrictions and controls, and can be played on any audio device supporting the popular MP3 format.

Amazon MP3 has over 2 million songs from more than 180,000 artists represented by over 20,000 major and independent labels, the company said in a statement. The downloaded files can be played on any audio device, Amazon said on Tuesday.

Most songs are priced from 89 cents to 99 cents, with more than 1 million of the 2 million songs priced at 89 cents, the company said. Songs on Amazon MP3 are encoded at 256 kilobits per second, which gives customers high audio quality at a manageable file size, according to Amazon.com.

Most large music labels have shied away from MP3 downloads, which is the reason why eMusic sells mainly music from independent labels. To make headway in this market, Amazon.com will have to introduce music guides and expert reviews to help users choose good quality music. The term independent labels has often come to mean amateurish music generated by out-of-garage operations, a problem many users encounter currently on eMusic.

Only Universal Music Group and EMI Music Publishing, among the big labels, are currently offering music at the Amazon.com store.

Amazon.com announced in May that it would open an online digital music store later this year, and also said that the music would be free of DRM controls. The company also invested in August in a music download firm called Amie Street Inc.

The MP3 music can be downloaded from Amazon here.

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