Friday, September 28, 2007

Advantage: Amazon

Earlier this week, Amazon.com launched their MP3 Music Store. In the three days since then, I've bought two complete albums from them--that's as many as I've ever bought from the iTunes Store, in more than three years. And I'm going to end up buying a lot more music from Amazon. You know why? Because they don't treat me like a criminal.

I hate DRM. I hated it when I first succumbed to the lure of the iTunes Store (convenient! fast!), but I had a good reason--I just couldn't wait to get the Avenue Q soundtrack. Note that I also bought the physical CD later, from Amazon, because I wanted a copy of the music that I could easily transfer to other devices later.

I hate that I can't burn more than seven copies of an iTunes-purchased song to a mix CD. I also hate that iTunes slaps me in the face with a pop-up dialog after the first few copies, but primarily, I hate the arbitrary restrictions.

Like this one: I can't "authorize" more than five computers at a time for my iTunes account, and I can only reset the list once per year. Why does Apple care how many computers I have? More to the point, if I have a dozen different machines, why doesn't Apple want me to use iTunes on all of them? Shouldn't they make it easier, not harder, for me to buy their stuff? Do they want my business or not?

Back in 2000, publisher Jim Baen started the Baen Free Library, a web site featuring free downloads of complete novels by various science fiction and fantasy authors. One of those authors, Eric Flint, wrote the introduction on the home page. An excerpt:
I'm not worried about [piracy], however, basically for two reasons.

The first is a simple truth which Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

He's absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences...

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the "gap" between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.
I've probably quoted this bit before, and I'm sure I'll do it again. It's a great argument against the very principle of DRM, and I wish it would get more play in the mainstream media.

The "price" of buying music in a digital format--whether it's MP3, OGG, or (preferably unprotected) AAC--includes ease of use. The whole point of having an MP3 collection is that it's easier to manage than a CD collection--easier to make copies for backup purposes or for sharing with friends, easier to search for specific songs and make playlists.

And the people who want to do all those things love music. We're not Sunday listeners; we're walking around with iPods and blogging about our favorite bands. We respect the people who make music, and we don't want to steal from them.

Amazon is doing more than offering a great new service; they're building goodwill. I'm already happy to fork over $80 a year for "Amazon Prime" (free 2-day shipping on most items), and in a world where brand loyalty is getting rarer every day, that's saying a lot. I trust them. And I like that they trust me.
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