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As of February 2013, more than 25bn songs had been downloaded from the iTunes store, averaging over 15,000 songs per minute.
There is no denying the power and ubiquity of Apple’s digital music service, after all it has transformed the way that everyone on the planet consumes music.
Unfortunately iTunes is a deeply flawed experience. It's impersonal and slow, with lack of support for different file formats, a stubbornly rigid price model and no browser access.
In this ongoing series I’ll be checking out the competition to see if we can find a digital music platform that can finally trump iTunes.
Previously I looked at 7digital, this time I’ll be taking a look at Amazon MP3.
Amazon began selling MP3s free from DRM (digital rights management) in 2008, a year before iTunes removed this restrictive feature. It has 15m songs available, all of which can be played on any device or platform.
As you probably would’ve guessed, the Amazon MP3 page is accessed from the Amazon desktop site and features exactly the same layout and functionality of the regular site.
If you know your way around Amazon, then you’ll know your way around here. Top new releases are listed at the top, along with top selling albums from Amazon’s various sales and offers.
It’s the shotgun approach of blasting as many offers and products at the wall in the hope of attracting every user’s attention. Personally I find it a little bewildering and I rarely access albums using the homepage.
It does however highlight Amazon’s commitment to offering older albums at a discount or in multibuy offers, which other platforms don’t tend to do. Also the live chart to the right is often interesting, throwing up the occasional anomaly such as Dire Straits remaining inexplicably high in the current top 10.
It’s the search functionality you’re already used to from Amazon, with predictive keywords and the ability to change which area of Amazon you wish to search in.
The default area is whatever section of Amazon you’re currently searching in. However if you’re searching from the homepage, where the default is set to all, you might find that by typing in an artist, MP3 is not a featured option.
Although if you click on the ‘artist name in Music’ option, you’ll be directed to that artist’s product listing page, where the the MP3 options are clearly displayed.
The album product page itself is very well presented, lots of space and clear call-to-actions for buying the complete album or individual songs.
Snippets of tracks can be previewed by clicking the play button to the left of the track, and customer reviews can be accessed by scrolling down the page.
Amazon doesn’t have the curative edge that 7digital has, but makes up for it in social proof.
The biggest advantage that Amazon has to offer over its competitors is this:
Amazon’s AutoRip service offers a free immediate MP3 download with any purchase of a CD or LP.
In this case I would be buying a physical copy of the album for only £3.51 more than what I was going to pay for the digital copy.
This also saves on the effort of having to upload the CD to my hardrive in order to convert it to MP3.
Basket & checkout
You can either click ‘add to basket’ to continue shopping without leaving the product page, or click ‘buy’ which uses Amazon’s 1-click payment method.
After a single ‘confirm purchase’ pop-out you are offered the choice to download the tracks immediately or play them now.
This is the super-fast payment experience you would expect from Amazon.
Post purchase downloading and streaming
If you wish to download your music to desktop, you will have to download the Amazon MP3 app first.
This acts as a desktop ‘cloud player’ with which you can stream all of your previous Amazon music purchases or download them to your hard drive as many times as you like.
This seems like an unnecessary step, as I was trying to find a platform that you didn’t need to launch a separate player for like with iTunes. 7digital manages to do everything from a browser window. Then again, if you click away from 7digital, the music player is disabled, at least with this you don’t get any interruptions.
The other benefits are that it’s a lot quicker to load and stream music on then iTunes. Impressively it also allows me to download MP3s from albums I bought on only on CD from Amazon, throughout my entire history of being an Amazon customer.
You can also sync it with any other music you’ve downloaded to your desktop and create playlists.
If you don’t wish to use the desktop app, the Amazon Cloud Player can be accessed within your browser by clicking on the Cloud Player link at the top of any page in the MP3 store.
Extra space comes at a premium though. At the moment I only have room for 250 more songs. If I want to use Amazon Cloud Player as a storage area for all my music, I have to pay £21.99 a year for up to 250,000 songs.
Mobile site & app
MP3s can be purchased easily from the Amazon mobile site. In fact you can read more about Amazon’s mobile ecommerce success here.
In the search field, when you type an artist name it not only predicts your keywords but also brings up ‘search in MP3’ as an option.
Then once you’re on the nicely mobile optimized product page…
It’s just a simple matter of swiping down to tap ‘buy’ and then you’re taken through to the Amazon MP3 site where you can purchase the whole album or individual songs using 1-click.
This is unfortunately where the easy journey ends. The song is saved to the Amazon Cloud Player. You can’t download it directly to your smartphone. You have to download a separate Amazon Cloud Player app to either download it or stream it.
To its credit, it works efficiently and quickly. Once I’d downloaded the app from the app store, the new music and all of my previous Amazon purchases appeared in the player.
All of these tracks can either be streamed or downloaded to your smartphone. You can also sync the Cloud Player with any other tracks on your device.
However, you cannot access the online store to make purchases via the Cloud Player app. You have to do this via the mobile site.
Much like 7digital, if you want to purchase, download and play music from Amazon on your mobile, you have to do it via two different platforms. I will repeat what I said about 7digital that it’s a pointless, arduous and frustrating experience that I’ll never repeat.
Better than iTunes?
For ease of purchase, price and search, Amazon MP3 is great. I’m especially impressed by the AutoRip feature and the fact you can download tracks from CDs you bought years before you even had a MP3 player.
Unfortunately with an overly complicated mobile experience and the fact that you have to launch a separate desktop app just to download your music, it’s just not quite the completely satisfying experience it should be. It’s a stronger alternative to iTunes, but just like 7digital it’s hobbled by its inferior mobile site.
For more digital music UX from the blog, check out seven reasons why I love Spotify and 17 why I don’t.