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MP3 Players

Play.com launches DRM-free iTunes Store competitor

Amazon's main online competitor in the UK, Play.com, has just announced it's to "challenge iTunes" in the digital music download space

Amazon's main online competitor in the UK, Play.com, has just announced it's to "challenge iTunes" in the digital music download space by launching an MP3 download store to complement its physical media offerings.

Called 'PlayDigital', the service will offer millions of DRM-free tracks from major label EMI and also many independent labels, for prices that claim to undercut Apple's iTunes Store. A PlayDigital spokesperson told Crave the plan was "to always aim to be consistently cheaper than iTunes".

In the new download store, the top-selling 100 single tracks will cost 65p. All other single tracks will cost 70p -- undercutting Apple by 9p per track. Albums, on the other hand, will cost £6.99 for titles in the top-selling 100 list, but other albums, we were told, will be priced dynamically, so as to be cheaper than iTunes. No set price point is predetermined for new albums.

Interestingly, no mention in the official news release was made to other DRM-free stores, such as the popular 7digital service or contemporary DRM-free powerhouse eMusic.

The launch also follows Amazon.com's recent announcement that its popular and groundbreaking DRM-free music store -- a store with a DRM-free catalogue comprising all major labels -- was to launch later this year in the UK, hopefully with more than just EMI on-board, encroaching on 7digital's territory. Subsequently, 7digital announced it was to launch its download store on Amazon's territory over in the US. 

But the real battle PlayDigital may see is the one with 7digital, which has for several months offered EMI's catalogue and a plethora of independent labels' catalogues, all DRM-free, and often in numerous audio formats.

Managing director of 7digital, Ben Drury, told Crave, "[Play.com's] announcement is very positive for digital music consumers. DRM-free MP3 downloads represent the best deal for consumers by far and we feel that the only sure fire way to make digital music appeal to the broadest consumer base, particularly in light of declining physical sales, is to offer a format that can be played across all devices, including iPods, other MP3 players and mobile phones. Apple's AAC never achieved this and it is clear that consumers are starting to demand universally compatible downloads."

And it wasn't long ago that 7digital announced its DRM-free downloads were out-selling DRMed equivalents at a rate of four to one.

However, what 7Digital doesn't have that PlayDigital does is something that certainly helped boost Amazon.com's download store into the mainstream within a short space of time: existing and trusted brand awareness, as a result of its history selling physical media. It worked for Amazon, and it could well work for PlayDigital.

With DRM dying, legal downloads getting ever-more popular and more competitors making things harder for iTunes, 2008 is quickly turning out to be the year of the digital music paradigm shift we were all hoping for, and today's announcement does nothing to hinder the industry's progression. -Nate Lanxon