Amazon.com is trying to catch market leader Apple iTunes by offering music that's free of digital rights management technology, which means the audio files can be played on any portable player through the manufacturer's own music-management software. In this way, Amazon.com lets third-party applications handle copyright protection.
Amazon.com said it would begin offering DRM-free music on its site in other countries this year, but declined to provide a timeline for individual international Web sites. The U.S. online retailer said demand from foreign consumers has been high. "We have received thousands of e-mails from Amazon customers around the world asking us when we will make Amazon MP3 available outside of the U.S.," Bill Carr, VP of digital music for Amazon.com, said in a statement released Sunday.
Amazon.com is hoping consumers will turn to it instead of iTunes or Microsoft's Zune store in order to take advantage of a more open format. Music bought from Apple or Microsoft can't be easily played on devices other than the iPod or Zune, respectively. The second largest music store on the Web, eMusic, also offers DRM-free music, but the site has yet to sign all the major record labels.
What isn't clear is whether the labels are selling their entire music catalogs on Amazon.com. The retailer has refused to provide details, but says its inventory includes more than 3.3 million songs from 270,000 artists.
Besides offering flexibility in playing tunes, Amazon.com is also trying to lure customers away from rivals with price. Apple sells individual tracks for 99 cents and albums for $9.99, but Amazon.com offers a third of its inventory at 89 cents a track. Albums cost from $5.99 to $9.99. Amazon.com launched its music store in September 2007, and signed the fourth major record label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, this month.