The Web superstore is expected to announce this week that it has hired Santa Clara, Calif.-based Speedera to digitally stream the entire contents of prereleased CDs to customers after they order the physical CD from Amazon, Gordon Smith, vice president of marketing for Speedera, told CNET News.com.
Amazon said digital streaming will improve the shopping experience.
"Amazon.com already uses Speedera's streaming services to deliver music samples, movie trailers and game previews," said Jeff Blackburn, general manager of Amazon's Worldwide Digital Group. "Speedera's new streaming service provides us with a means to innovate even further."
The offering, which will include only a small number of titles initially, is designed to allow customers to listen to prereleased music while they wait for the actual CD to be released and delivered to their door, Smith said.
Although a slew of e-tailers sell digital music or videos, most offer only short samples of unreleased songs. Amazon is one of the first e-tailers to legally offer prereleased CDs, in their entirety, over the Web. But Amazon is not getting into the music-download business, Smith said.
When a customer buys a prereleased CD, that person is sent an encrypted URL, which links to Speedera's streaming area, Smith said. The buyer can then listen to the music featured on the CD as often as desired. But once the CD is released to the public and presumably delivered to the customer, Speedera will block the Web address.
This also serves to protect the property of the music industry. After Napster, music companies grew hypersensitive to any offering that distributed copyrighted materials to a mass audience. They worried that the technology could be cracked and thereby allow the music to be copied, pirated and spread over the Web.
With Speedera's technology, listeners are kept from copying or recording the streamed music. Smith said there is a secret key embedded into the encryption that prevents anyone but the buyer to access the URL. He declined to offer specifics on how that is done.
"You can't record the music; nor can you e-mail to a friend. And it can't be accessed if someone posts it on a Web site," Smith said.
The technology is easily accessible for other kinds of media, such as video, and through different software, such as Microsoft's Windows Media and RealNetworks' RealMedia.
Sources close to Amazon said that if offering prereleased music over the Web proves successful, the e-tailer will likely extend the feature into other digital content.
Speedera, which also considers itself a content-delivery service, is striding into an area where a small group of companies called "music lockers" have toiled. Musicbank, Myplay.com and MP3.com's My.MP3.com have tried to avoid drawing the wrath of record companies over protecting copyrighted materials by giving consumers access to songs online only after they've purchased the CD.
But demand for the services has been lighter than expected. Musicbank ceased operations in April. In MP3.com's case, the company had to pay millions of dollars stemming from legal fights with the record industry.
In March, Myplay revamped its strategy to provide a business-to-business service aimed at creating and running locker services for other Web sites. Myplay was acquired by Bertelsmann E-Commerce Group in May.
News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.