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MP3 Players

Amazon launches DRM-free music store

Amazon.com has taken the lid off its new DRM-free download store and is set to take iTunes and eMusic head on. Does the new service have what it takes to dethrone the digital giants?

Amazon.com yesterday launched the public beta of its a la carte DRM-free music download store, Amazon MP3. As the name suggests, the new service offers its entire collection in the 256kbps MP3 format, sans copy protection. Hurrah! EMI has its entire digital catalogue available at the new store like it does on iTunes. Also on board is Universal, which is contributing "thousands of songs" to the DRM-free store, according to an Amazon spokesperson Crave spoke to.

Amazon MP3 offers a variable pricing structure, allowing it to promote certain titles for as little as $5.99 (£3). Full-price albums sell for up to $9.99 (£5). If you're just interested in single tracks, you'll be looking at $0.89 (45p) or $0.99 (50p). The top 100 songs in the library will cost just $0.89 a pop. Of course, it's only available to those in the US at the moment.

Before you start calling Amazon MP3 the iTunes killer, consider this: Amazon has 2 million songs from a mix of two major labels and tens of thousands of independents. In contrast, iTunes has all the majors on board and boasts over 5 million songs, helped also by countless thousands of independent labels.

However, DRM is the consumer's worst enemy and the public is becoming more aware every day of how these so-called 'digital rights management' tools are making a mockery of their fair use rights. EMI was the first major label to respond to this back in April when it made its entire catalogue available on iTunes without DRM, in the form of iTunes Plus.

Thousands of independent labels have been selling DRM-free albums on eMusic for years. It just so happens that eMusic is the second largest music download store in the world, with 2 million DRM-free songs in its library and over 250,000 subscribers.

Some big, BIG names feature on Amazon MP3, including The Rolling Stones, The Chemical Brothers, Radiohead, Paul McCartney, Nirvana, KT Tunstall, Coldplay, Beastie Boys, 50 Cent and Nelly. Happy times.

Currently Amazon MP3 is operating only in the US. An Amazon representative declined to comment on the company's international plans or how long the US beta trial is intended to last for. -Nate Lanxon