The Great Music Wars

Several months back I saw the light and switched all my music purchases from the iTunes Store to Amazon. Not only does Amazon tend to be a little cheaper, but all Amazon tracks are DRM free which means they can be played on pretty much any device without all that messy authorization nonsense that comes with iTunes purchases. Between me, my wife and my daughter we own several computers and iPods and many times haven’t been able to share tracks between them because of this. With Amazon music that problem goes away. If I buy music, or my wife buys music, it gets copied to the Drobo and everyone in the house can easily get to it if they like. The deal gets even sweeter with Amazon’s daily specials which regularly discount entire albums to anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99. Anyway, I’m a big Amazon fan when it comes to buying music.

So yesterday iTunes dropped all DRM from their music. This is good. In addition, they added a variable pricing scheme where some of the really popular tracks would be $1.29, but never fear (says Apple), this will be offset by many tracks which will be $0.69. This is bad. The majority of tracks should remain $0.99. I read this news with little interest since there was nothing in that news to sway me from Amazon back to iTunes.

Until this morning. Today I came across an article claiming that Amazon and Wal-Mart have followed suit and will charge a premium on their more popular tracks as well. Amazon will be charging $1.29 for premium tracks while Wal-Mart will be charging $1.24. I was a bit distraught. If Amazon prices their music the same as iTunes then they lose whatever advantage they may have over them. I’m certainly not using Amazon for the elegant user interface.

So, I did a little research. I looked at the top 20 selling tracks on iTunes and compared them to the prices on Amazon. Here are the top 20 most popular tracks on iTunes and the prices on both iTMS and Amazon:

Track Artist iTunes Amazon
Boom Boom Pow Black Eyed Peas $1.29 $0.99
Poker Face Lady GaGa $1.29 $0.99
The Climb Miley Cyrus $0.99 $0.99
Right Round Flo Rida $1.29 $0.99
Day ‘n’ Nite Kid Cudi $0.99 $0.89
Kiss Me Thru the Phone Soulja Boy $1.29 $0.99
Blame It Jamie Foxx $0.99 $1.29
You Found Me The Fray $0.99 $0.99
Gives You Hell The All American Rejects $1.29 $0.99
Love Sex Magic Ciara $1.29 $0.99
I Love College Asher Roth $0.99 $0.99
Just Dance Lady GaGa & Colby O’Donis $1.29 $0.99
Halo Beyoncé $0.99 $0.99
Sugar Flo Rida $1.29 $0.99
If You Seek Amy Britney Spears $1.29 $1.29
Dead and Gone T.I. $0.99 $0.99
Second Chance Shinedown $0.99 $0.79
My Life Would Suck Without You Kelly Clarkson $1.29 $0.99
Jai Ho A.R. Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls $1.29 $0.99
Don’t Trust Me 3OH!3 $1.29 $0.99
Total $23.40 $20.10
Average $1.17 $1.01

Amazon has indeed increased their prices. But they are not anywhere near the changes that Apple has made. In fact it looks like the difference in price between Amazon and Apple has just gotten that much wider. Amazon beats or matches Apple’s prices on all but one track. While I can’t say I’m happy with the price increase, Amazon’s average price has only jumped a few pennies a track on average. While Apple’s prices have jumped almost $0.20 per track in this sample. I looked at a larger sample comparing Apple and Amazon’s top 100 tracks and found that in Apple’s case they are charging $1.29 for 41 tracks and $0.99 for the other 59. This brings the average down to around $1.11. An increase of around twelve cents per track on average. Amazon’s top 100 tracks had the following breakdown: 8 tracks at $1.29, 87 tracks at $0.99, 1 track at $0.89, 6 tracks at $0.79 and 2 free tracks for an average of $1.02 per track.

Now it may be, since Amazon has only recently adopted this price increase, that all of the changes have not yet taken affect in which case I may need to reconsider. But as things stand now, Amazon is in little danger of losing me as a music customer. I’ll be watching with interest though.