MP3 pricing war erupts between Apple and Amazon

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amazon-vs-itunes.jpgToday, Apple finally implements the variable pricing that has been promised since label renegotiations in January, but the company must be seething a little that Amazon grabbed all the headlines yesterday with an offer featuring chart-topping MP3s for just 30p.

The deal, featuring artists like Lady Gaga, Kings of Leon, Coldplay and La Roux, will tempt yet more consumers over to Amazon’s DRM-free, easy-to-understand platform from the bloated iTunes ecosystem.

But the funny thing here is that we’re not really talking about music fans. We’re talking about mums and dads, people who buy the occasional track but don’t really keep up with much new music or go to gigs.

The kind of people who buy albums in Tesco, not independent record shops. They’re the people that the record labels successfully marketed CDs to in the 90s, but who are now switching to casual gaming and television since music is so omnipresent in everyday life. They simply don’t need to buy it any more.

Amazon’s strategy seems two-fold. Firstly it wants to steal customers off iTunes – that much is clear by the timing of yesterday’s announcement. It also wants to grow the digital download market, though, by marketing MP3s at people buying CDs, books and DVDs from the site.

Ultimately the whole thing is futile, though, as the general public follows the early adopters from ownership of MP3s to access to vast streaming libraries. Already, pretty much everyone who’s interested in listening to music on their computer has tried Spotify.

Personally speaking, my music listening within the last couple of years has already shifted entirely from my MP3 collection to Spotify and Last.fm. The only time I go back is to listen to obscurer stuff that Spotify doesn’t have, and even then I sometimes don’t bother – I just listen to something Spotify *does* have.

At Christmas, I showed Spotify to my Dad. I’ve never seen him so enthralled by a bit of software – he spent a solid four hours playing with it. Whenever I show it to people are resolutely not early adopters they’re amazed by it too.

That’s why I’m so sure that the pricing war doesn’t matter. As soon as the general public properly discovers Spotify, and when Spotify sorts out its mobile clients, then they won’t need Amazon, iTunes or anyone else. They’ll be converts to “access”, and they won’t go back.

UPDATE: There’s apparently a bit of software called Advantageous MP3 that’ll let you browse on iTunes but make your purchases on Amazon. Before you install it though, do me a favour and see if the track’s on Spotify. Odds-are it probably is, and you’ve saved yourself 79p.

Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Last.fm

Duncan Geere