Amazon launches beta of DRM-free music store

The anticipated Amazon online music store has launched. Still in beta, the new store, aptly named AmazonMP3 offers music in the DRM-free MP3 format (256 kbps). Amazon is more than happy to point out that this format allows them to be played on a greater number of audio players (including PCs, Macs, iPods, Zunes, Zens, iPhones, RAZRs, and BlackBerrys) than a similar offering from iTunes which will work only with an iPod. Amazon is also stressing that it aimed its service at people used to the

The service works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox and uses a custom program called MP3 Downloader to transfer songs down to your computer and load them into iTunes or Windows Media Player.

AmazonMP3 is launching with some 2 million songs from more than 180,000 artists represented by over 20,000 major and independent labels. with most priced between US$0.89 and US$0.99. Full albums will range in price from US$5.99 to US$9.99. iTunes also offers DRM-free music but is more expensive ($1.29 USD a track) and uses the 256kbps AAC format.

It remains to be seen how well AmazonMP3 will do. It lacks music from both Sony-BMG and Warner Music who have not agreed to offer music free of DRM. And Universal is offering DRM-free music only for a limited time for now. If that does not change, Amazon could find itself with an even smaller catalogue. Then again, other studios could join AmazonMP3 if negotiations with Apple don’t go so well.

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