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Amazon opens DRM-free music store

Almost music-free, too

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Amazon.com has opened its DRM-free music store for business. Songs are available for $0.89 per song, or $6 to $10 for an album.

Amazon applies "fingerprints" rather than "locks" to music, the idea being that music exchanges can be tracked at a later date, rather than prevented from the outset. Files are encoded in the (old) MP3 format, at 256 kbps bit rate.

Amazon claims that several labels - Sugar Hill and Trojan - have never sold digital music in unprotected form before.

It's a challenge to iTunes - which not only uses DRM, but a DRM that only Apple devices can decode - but also to eMusic, the popular DRM-free subscription service. The concept isn't new: Bleep, which began life as an offshoot of Warp Records in 2004, now sells unencumbered music from hundreds of independent labels.

However, the repertory on offer at Amazon is smaller than its biggest rivals. Amazon says two million songs are available, while eMusic and Apple claim 2.7 million and three million are online on their stores, respectively.

Mac and PC clients are available. And in common with its rivals, except Apple, Amazon is offering a pure web-only interface.

What are its chances of success?

It's competing with free, of course - and free gets better every day: unlicensed music has the largest repertory on the "market". While the low price may satisfy impulse buyers, eMusic still looks better value - ranging from 43¢ a song, to 28¢ a song. DRM-free subscription services don't penalize you for discovering new music.

Have a go here; we'll compare notes below.

Last week, one of the high street's best known music retail names Virgin threw in the onlinetowel. ®

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