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Amazon one-ups iTunes Plus with MP3 store, exclusive music

post #1 of 88
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Posing one of the more serious challenges to Apple's continued success with iTunes, Amazon's MP3 store has opened its doors and claims more unprotected tracks with lower prices.

Considered a public beta, Amazon MP3 marks a departure from both Apple's store and Amazon's own Unbox video service in only selling songs that are available in the unguarded MP3 format -- allowing virtually every music phone or portable media player to support its content without limits to CD burning or file copying.

While the concept of an MP3-only download store is far from new, the online retailer was keen to stress that its service was designed to lure users accustomed to the ease of use of stores built into music software, particularly iTunes. A custom program known as the MP3 Downloader runs in the background for both Mac and Windows users and seamlessly transfers songs bought from Amazon MP3 into either iTunes or Windows Media Player if they are present on the system, the company said.

But the real attractions may be the price and the catalog. Although every song is encoded at higher quality as an MP3 at 256 kilobits per second -- as high as Amazon's rival Wal-Mart and slightly behind the 256Kbps AAC files of iTunes Plus -- songs are no more expensive than at most stores, selling for 99 cents each. More than half of the music in the collection sells for 89 cents per song, according to Amazon. In contrast, an iTunes Plus song costs $1.29 when bought outside of an album, or more than 40 percent higher.

And though Amazon MP3 launched with just a third of the total songs, cresting at 2 million versus the 6 million of iTunes, the company was able to claim a greater number unrestricted tracks through a deal with Universal Music Group that saw the label's entire catalog on sale in MP3 format.

According to a previous report by Electronista, Universal had negotiated deals during the summer with Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other online music stores to sell its collection in unprotected formats for several months and test the success of DRM-free tracks. The deal was notable at the time for excluding Apple, which Universal claimed was a "control" in an experiment.

Amazon may have gained the advantage due in part to its flexibility in negotiating rare album deals. Among other artists, the Seattle, Washington-based firm has successfully obtained the rights to sell downloads from the British rock group Radiohead -- a band well-known for publicly refusing to allow its songs to be sold individually, insisting that customers instead buy the full album. Amazon MP3 sells all the group's albums and singles only in complete form and appears not to share Apple's highly-publicized insistence that every average-length song be available for a separate purchase.

In spite of the seeming advantages, however, Amazon's prospects for growth are less than certain after the launch. To date, neither Sony-BMG nor Warner Music have agreed to sell their catalogs without copy protection. Universal's DRM-free experiment is also set to end in January and may reduce Amazon's catalog substantially if the major label believes there to be little advantage to removing DRM from its digital library.
post #2 of 88
Sounds pretty good. I wish Amazon luck. It's better to have music on many good stores rather than just one store.
post #3 of 88
Another attempt that looks good on paper but with fate with the rest of them....when will they learn
post #4 of 88
Well good for Amazon! At 89 cents a song, I might just buy a few songs a year like I do on iTunes. Glad to support a local company.
post #5 of 88
I tried a download - Missing Persons - Words - it's availble at 256k on both itunes and amazon - oddly - the amazon download is slightly smaller than the download from itunes (7.7MB v. 8.4MB) - the download process is not as simple as the itunes interface - but it does automatically dump the song in itunes and the cover art comes accross as well. I think the pricing competition will be great for consumers. I can't hear a difference between the two downloads (not surprisingly since presumably they both originated from the same digital library) - of note, however, is the coverflow from Amazon is brighter and looks better...
post #6 of 88
Amazon understands your music store is nothing unless it works with the iPod. iTunes needs competition. This will be another example to the record labels that DRM isn't necessary. Looks good to me, I will likely use it.
post #7 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by daratbastid View Post

Another attempt that looks good on paper but with fate with the rest of them....when will they learn

What is it Amazon has done wrong that you feel they should learn? This is not the same as "the rest of them"--they are burdened by Microsoft WMA DRM that isn't even compatible with itself!

It's a good deal, and integrates automatically with iTunes and iPod. I'll buy some music in support of DRM-free non-Microsoft downloading.

Finally, a good option so I can shop from two sources instead of one. That needn't be taken as any kind of slam against iTunes. In fact, I hope this reinforces Apple's push for the removal of DRM, and even brings iTunes songs down in price.
post #8 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by onceuponamac View Post

I tried a download - Missing Persons - Words - it's availble at 256k on both itunes and amazon - oddly - the amazon download is slightly smaller than the download from itunes (7.7MB v. 8.4MB) - the download process is not as simple as the itunes interface - but it does automatically dump the song in itunes and the cover art comes accross as well. I think the pricing competition will be great for consumers. I can't hear a difference between the two downloads (not surprisingly since presumably they both originated from the same digital library) - of note, however, is the coverflow from Amazon is brighter and looks better...

Amazon uses variable bit rate while iTunes Store use constant bit rate.

/Adrian
post #9 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zandros View Post

Amazon uses variable bit rate [VBR] while iTunes Store use constant bit rate.


That's something iTunes would do well to emulate.


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post #10 of 88
I'm going to download Katie Lied by Steely Dan when I get home to see if it properly finds and merges into my library. Can't complain about the price (7.96).

I assume that pricing will ultimately sort itself out between the various vendors, and differentiation will occur based on user experience and catalog. I'm not sure how the need to deal with multiple stores will play out, but I suppose its unrealistic (and probably not even desirable) for there to be a complete one-stop-stop record store.

The win for Apple, however, is that they're sucessfully forcing labels to remove DRM in order to make the competitors iPod compatible.

But from my quick glance at it, it looks way less sucky that the other non-iTMS wannabes I've seen.
post #11 of 88
First of all, Amazon may claim that more than half of their tracks cost $.89, but a little browsing through the site suggests that most tracks by well-known artists are $.99 and up! Many longer tracks are priced at $1.94 or even $3.87.

Second, Apple's AAC format is superior to MP3 and results in smaller files. Amazon's FAQ explicitly states that most tracks are encoded as VBR, not 256kbps. One would have to perform an A-B listening test to determine the audible difference between 256kbps AAC and VBR-encoded MP3.

Third, the article admits that "Amazon's prospects for growth are less than certain after the launch," yet the headline boldly claims that "Amazon one-ups iTunes Plus..." Could you run that by me again?

I sincerely suggest that AppleInsider consider changing their name to AppleOutsider. The decidedly negative spin that infects more than a few of your articles may pass for "objectivity" in your neighborhood, but in mine it's called "Apple-bashing" and has no place on a site supposedly dedicated to news about Apple and Apple products.
post #12 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by alansky View Post

I sincerely suggest that AppleInsider consider changing their name to AppleOutsider. The decidedly negative spin that infects more than a few of your articles may pass for "objectivity" in your neighborhood, but in mine it's called "Apple-bashing" and has no place on a site supposedly dedicated to news about Apple and Apple products.

I sincerely suggest that you stop being such a candy-ass.
post #13 of 88
I wonder if this will be more popular than unbox? On second thought, it would have to be.
post #14 of 88
I didn't actually download anything, But I was listening to previews of songs from both iTunes and Amazon, and there is a distinct difference in quality.
I'm hoping that Amazon just has lower quality previews because they definitely sounded "muddier" than the iTunes preview versions of the same songs.
Does anybody know anything about this? I'm just hoping that the preview on Amazon is not representative of what you get when you buy.
post #15 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by alansky View Post

Amazon's FAQ explicitly states that most tracks are encoded as VBR, not 256kbps.


Funny... this is what I got from Amazon when I was there:

Quality: Our MP3 tracks are encoded at 256 kbps, which gives you high-quality audio at a reasonable file size. This means your music sounds great and downloads quickly.


Also, VBR and 256 kbps are not really an 'either-or' proposition... go into your iTunes Preferences... you'll find that you can import tracks using a setting of 256kbps, while using VBR. Also, you can use VBR with not only MP3, but with AAC as well.

The 256 kbps is a baseline bit rate... with VBR, the bitrate is allowed to go up or down over the course of the track, depending on the complexity of the music. All else being equal, it does seem to yield better audio quality than similar bitrate tracks that do not use VBR.

That said, AAC (what iTS uses) is a better codec audio quality-wise than MP3, as you mention, so that may offset the audio benefits of Unbox using VBR... 256 kpbs MP3 VBR prolly sounds about as good as 256 kbps AAC.

Far as file sizes go, VBR files of a similar (baseline) bit rate tend to be slightly larger than 'plain' MP3s or AAC files, but probably not by enough for most ppl to care about.

.
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post #16 of 88
Aside from your "candy-ass" opinion, "brit-teeth," what is your reaction to the clear misrepresentation about songs being priced at $.89? THEY ARE NOT! Some are . . . but NOT ALL. Is that your clear and balanced spin?
post #17 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by britwithgoodteeth View Post

I sincerely suggest that you stop being such a candy-ass.

Sometimes you hit the nail squarely on the head, Brit. (not often, mind you)...

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post #18 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by VinitaBoy View Post

Aside from your "candy-ass" opinion, "brit-teeth," what is your reaction to the clear misrepresentation about songs being priced at $.89? THEY ARE NOT! Some are . . . but NOT ALL. Is that your clear and balanced spin?

Hmmm. Let's see. There seem to be two possibilities here:

1) AI misread/misunderstood the pricing info;

2) AI has a secret, anti-mac agenda that they've been promoting over the past how many years.

Which do you think it is, Einstein?

post #19 of 88
Kudos to Amazon for offering a competing store which everyone (Mac/Windows) can use (unlike Walmart's latest offering). More kudos to them for doing what it took to offer Radiohead albums. Apple shouldn't walk away from good content, and I bet they follow suit fairly quickly in offering Radiohead content.

Kudos to AppleInsider for pointing out that Amazon had managed to secure said content - I hadn't seen this reported anywhere else. Nice work.
post #20 of 88
Hey, I've been loyal to the iTunes store almost since day one. I have *never* bought music online with anything else, but I just bought my first track today at Amazon. I think it's a very significant offering.

Amazon can get by with the 89 cents downloads because they offer variable pricing (some songs/albums more expensive). So it's really cool I think to have this option, if it's a new release I want right away, I'll get it from iTunes since it's cheaper. If it's a catalog purchase I'll buy it from Amazon. I just want the best buy!

I'm not about to stop giving iTunes gift cards since they have a larger catalog.
post #21 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryukyu View Post

I didn't actually download anything, But I was listening to previews of songs from both iTunes and Amazon, and there is a distinct difference in quality.
I'm hoping that Amazon just has lower quality previews because they definitely sounded "muddier" than the iTunes preview versions of the same songs.
Does anybody know anything about this? I'm just hoping that the preview on Amazon is not representative of what you get when you buy.

I did download (purchased) from both sites and I can not discern a difference in the audio quality of either track - they sound identical to me.
post #22 of 88
BTW, I used and downloaded from Amazon... pretty good experience! Also, I found lots of artists/bands that iTunes doesn't have (especially in the 80s music). I'll be using this regularly from now on.

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post #23 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by VinitaBoy View Post

Aside from your "candy-ass" opinion, "brit-teeth," what is your reaction to the clear misrepresentation about songs being priced at $.89? THEY ARE NOT! Some are . . . but NOT ALL. Is that your clear and balanced spin?

Dude, just.... stop. You're embarassing yourself.
post #24 of 88
Alansky, I see your point!

It's the first time I read a negatively biased article on AppleInsider and it also incurs on technical incorrections: 256 Kbps AAC is far superior to 256Kbps MP3, be it the VBR variety or not, which is comparable with 128Kbps [or so we were told when they sold it to us]. If 256Kbps AAC iTunes Plus tracks are 40% higher in price, they're probably even higher than that in quality. [ppl correct me if I'm wrong, thanx]. And 128Kbps AAC is equivalent to 256Kbps MP3 so it's a tie there.

Still, I guess 256Kbps MP3 is good enough quality for most people and, hey it's (not free but) DRMless. And Amazon is a really competitive and intelligent contender which I tend to regard far higher than MS, mobile phone makers / operators [yes, even Vodafone+HTC] and any other computer maker [even Sony].

Please take note that Amazon's catalog is far smaller [and, dare I speculate, outdated?] than iTunes' and only a few songs are 89cents. Contrary to Apple's consumer defending practice (!) [after all what Apple wants is to sell iPods & iMacs, isn't it?] which puts EVERY SONG @ 99cent or @ $1.29 [Plus], Amazon seems to have different pricing for different albums/songs.

I will remain faithful to AppleInsider as my mandatory reading but they must be really careful not to enter this negativity wave that's going around - whom is it serving?! I guess we all know the answer!
post #25 of 88
i dont have a problem with competition the least bit... but... I'm stickin with itunes. I like it. its convenient, easy to use... I can get almost everything I need there and if i cant, i can wait. hehe...


Good luck though to amazon.
post #26 of 88
I just may have to buy some music from Amazon. Despite what Apple says, not all of the Capitol catalog is available in iTunes+ format. Two examples in my protected-AAC collection are The Tubes' "Best of" album and "Freezeframe" by the J. Geils Band. Both of these are available in MP3 from Amazon. I'm sure I'll find others, especially since my musical tastes are mostly from the 1960s-1980s.
post #27 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

In spite of the seeming advantages, however, Amazon's prospects for growth are less than certain after the launch. To date, neither Sony-BMG nor Warner Music have agreed to sell their catalogs without copy protection. Universal's DRM-free experiment is also set to end in January and may reduce Amazon's catalog substantially if the major label believes there to be little advantage to removing DRM from its digital library.

The key determinant for me on whether to use the Amazon store for Universal tracks is what message it sends to Universal. So I'd buy the EMI songs that are 89 cents. I wouldn't buy any song over 99 cents. So the question is should I buy a Universal song that is 89 cents (that would cost 99 cents for the DRMed version at iTunes)?

I'm thinking the answer should be yes because this will convince Universal to drop DRM. But would it also convince Universal to pull out of iTunes completely, thus forcing me to use two different stores? Would it also embolden other studios to pull out of iTunes, leading to even more variable (and most likely higher) pricing, once iTunes is crippled?
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post #28 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBaggins View Post

Funny... this is what I got from Amazon when I was there:

Quality: Our MP3 tracks are encoded at 256 kbps, which gives you high-quality audio at a reasonable file size. This means your music sounds great and downloads quickly.


Also, VBR and 256 kbps are not really an 'either-or' proposition... go into your iTunes Preferences... you'll find that you can import tracks using a setting of 256kbps, while using VBR. Also, you can use VBR with not only MP3, but with AAC as well.

The 256 kbps is a baseline bit rate... with VBR, the bitrate is allowed to go up or down over the course of the track, depending on the complexity of the music. All else being equal, it does seem to yield better audio quality than similar bitrate tracks that do not use VBR.

That said, AAC (what iTS uses) is a better codec audio quality-wise than MP3, as you mention, so that may offset the audio benefits of Unbox using VBR... 256 kpbs MP3 VBR prolly sounds about as good as 256 kbps AAC.

Far as file sizes go, VBR files of a similar (baseline) bit rate tend to be slightly larger than 'plain' MP3s or AAC files, but probably not by enough for most ppl to care about.

VBR is definitely a good thing. I think Apple uses CBR - constant bit rate for their music downloads. As you suggest, for the same codec, encoder and bitrates, VBR should be better because it allocates the bits where needed, it should provide a consistent quality all the way through, rather than high quality during the simple segments and low quality in more complex segments. It's not nearly as important of a consideration as with video though, a lot of finished video products use VBR to maximize quality for a given amount of bits or to reduce the file size.
post #29 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by britwithgoodteeth View Post

I sincerely suggest that you stop being such a candy-ass.

It's 'candy-arse' not 'candy-ass' to a proper Brit, what! Right, pip pip, cheerio. :-)
post #30 of 88
Wow this actually looks promising.

What I wonder is what universal gets out of this? I mean they felt they were getting screwed by itunes, so they turn around and sign with amazon and sell tracks for cheaper with no protection? Wtf, why?

Amazon must make no money off this deal. Because I can't see Jobs saying no to those things if that's really what Universal wanted. They must have said "no DRM and cheaper? Sure, but lower price by removing your cut from price, not mine."
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post #31 of 88

And though Amazon MP3 launched with just a third of the total songs, cresting at 2 million versus the 6 million of iTunes, the company was able to claim a greater number unrestricted tracks through a deal with Universal Music Group that saw the label's entire catalog on sale in MP3 format.


APPLE GOT 0WN3d!!

Wow. Screw itms!
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post #32 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by XamaX View Post

It's the first time I read a negatively biased article on AppleInsider and it also incurs on technical incorrections: 256 Kbps AAC is far superior to 256Kbps MP3, be it the VBR variety or not, which is comparable with 128Kbps [or so we were told when they sold it to us]. If 256Kbps AAC iTunes Plus tracks are 40% higher in price, they're probably even higher than that in quality. [ppl correct me if I'm wrong, thanx]. And 128Kbps AAC is equivalent to 256Kbps MP3 so it's a tie there.

You are wrong. 256Mp3 is nearly indistinguishable from 256AAC. It certainly isn't distinguishable with human ears, at any rate.

128 AAC is probably somewhere around 160mp3 w/vbr.

By ANY measure, 128AAC is crap compared to 256Mp3. It is NOT a tie. Just listen on a good sound system (note:not crap computer speakers or car stereo). Most people can tell really easily. I can easily tell between 128AAC and 192Mp3, I'm trained to hear digital sound errors though.

Edit: I verified that Amazon does indeed use 256--another site said so
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post #33 of 88
You guys need to wise up. Amazon is selling its soul to compete with Apple. Universal's goal is to destroy Apple so it can charge whatever it wants and give you the music in whatever format it wants. Business as usual. To achieve this goal, Universal is willing to take a hit now by giving Amazon better rates and a better selection of DRM free music then Apple. Moreover, Universal has said it is experimenting with DRM free music for only a six month period. Finally, there is no competition, as Universal isn't given Apple any DRM Free access to it music.

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post...ermarking.html

At the end of the day if Amazon succeeds at Apple's expense, consumers will lose. Apple may have its own interests at heart, but those interests coincide with consumer's interests. I will download free music and copy CDs before I buy any music from Amazon.


Quote:
Originally Posted by nagromme View Post

What is it Amazon has done wrong that you feel they should learn? This is not the same as "the rest of them"--they are burdened by Microsoft WMA DRM that isn't even compatible with itself!

It's a good deal, and integrates automatically with iTunes and iPod. I'll buy some music in support of DRM-free non-Microsoft downloading.

Finally, a good option so I can shop from two sources instead of one. That needn't be taken as any kind of slam against iTunes. In fact, I hope this reinforces Apple's push for the removal of DRM, and even brings iTunes songs down in price.
post #34 of 88
No kidding? Universal has been pulling music from iTunes, and giving Amazon better rates. Six months from now if more people think like you, you will have only one option: music embedded in Microsoft Windows Media format. Universal wants to be able to raise rates at will, and Apple is standing in the way. If you want what's best for you in the long run, get your music anyplace but Amazon. Universal is giving now to hurt you later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

BTW, I used and downloaded from Amazon... pretty good experience! Also, I found lots of artists/bands that iTunes doesn't have (especially in the 80s music). I'll be using this regularly from now on.
post #35 of 88
Resist the poison. I have nothing against Amazon. I use it for books, and products all the time. However, you are supporting Universal when you buy music from Amazon. Universal is sucking you in now to hurt you later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheBum View Post

I just may have to buy some music from Amazon. Despite what Apple says, not all of the Capitol catalog is available in iTunes+ format. Two examples in my protected-AAC collection are The Tubes' "Best of" album and "Freezeframe" by the J. Geils Band. Both of these are available in MP3 from Amazon. I'm sure I'll find others, especially since my musical tastes are mostly from the 1960s-1980s.
post #36 of 88
How ironic that their best selling single for today is "1234" by Feist.... Yes, the song used for the iPod nano commercials
post #37 of 88
I agree. More importantly, supporting Amazon is voting to support Universal's attack on Apple. Apple wants easy to understand pricing, and voiced supported for DRM free music when companies like Universal loudly said no to DRM free music. After APple forced its hand with its deal with EMI, Universal took all its DRM Free music to Amazon's play yard in a clear attempt to undermine Apple at your expense.

Moreover, in six months if Universal blows Apple a significant blow, you may see music encoded in Microsoft Media Format on Amazon instead.

Quote:
Originally Posted by alansky View Post

First of all, Amazon may claim that more than half of their tracks cost $.89, but a little browsing through the site suggests that most tracks by well-known artists are $.99 and up! Many longer tracks are priced at $1.94 or even $3.87.

Second, Apple's AAC format is superior to MP3 and results in smaller files. Amazon's FAQ explicitly states that most tracks are encoded as VBR, not 256kbps. One would have to perform an A-B listening test to determine the audible difference between 256kbps AAC and VBR-encoded MP3.

Third, the article admits that "Amazon's prospects for growth are less than certain after the launch," yet the headline boldly claims that "Amazon one-ups iTunes Plus..." Could you run that by me again?

I sincerely suggest that AppleInsider consider changing their name to AppleOutsider. The decidedly negative spin that infects more than a few of your articles may pass for "objectivity" in your neighborhood, but in mine it's called "Apple-bashing" and has no place on a site supposedly dedicated to news about Apple and Apple products.
post #38 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Considered a public beta, Amazon MP3 marks a departure from both Apple's store and Amazon's own Unbox video service in only selling songs that are available in the unguarded MP3 format ()

Yes, indeed, you can get Unguarded in the MP3 format.
post #39 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by GQB View Post

I'm going to download Katie Lied by Steely Dan when I get home to see if it properly finds and merges into my library. Can't complain about the price (7.96).

I assume that pricing will ultimately sort itself out between the various vendors, and differentiation will occur based on user experience and catalog. I'm not sure how the need to deal with multiple stores will play out, but I suppose its unrealistic (and probably not even desirable) for there to be a complete one-stop-stop record store.

The win for Apple, however, is that they're sucessfully forcing labels to remove DRM in order to make the competitors iPod compatible.

But from my quick glance at it, it looks way less sucky that the other non-iTMS wannabes I've seen.

What label has Apple forced to go off DRM?

Certainly not EMI. They announced it a while ago, and are doing it because their sales are down, and they want to try this. They are also the smallest of the big labels.

The indie's have been offering DRM-free music onsites other than iTunes for years.

Even Universal may be doing this in an attempt to snub Apple, and break their power over the industry.
post #40 of 88
Quote:
Originally Posted by XamaX View Post

Alansky, I see your point!

It's the first time I read a negatively biased article on AppleInsider and it also incurs on technical incorrections: 256 Kbps AAC is far superior to 256Kbps MP3, be it the VBR variety or not, which is comparable with 128Kbps [or so we were told when they sold it to us]. If 256Kbps AAC iTunes Plus tracks are 40% higher in price, they're probably even higher than that in quality. [ppl correct me if I'm wrong, thanx]. And 128Kbps AAC is equivalent to 256Kbps MP3 so it's a tie there.

Still, I guess 256Kbps MP3 is good enough quality for most people and, hey it's (not free but) DRMless. And Amazon is a really competitive and intelligent contender which I tend to regard far higher than MS, mobile phone makers / operators [yes, even Vodafone+HTC] and any other computer maker [even Sony].

Please take note that Amazon's catalog is far smaller [and, dare I speculate, outdated?] than iTunes' and only a few songs are 89cents. Contrary to Apple's consumer defending practice (!) [after all what Apple wants is to sell iPods & iMacs, isn't it?] which puts EVERY SONG @ 99cent or @ $1.29 [Plus], Amazon seems to have different pricing for different albums/songs.

I will remain faithful to AppleInsider as my mandatory reading but they must be really careful not to enter this negativity wave that's going around - whom is it serving?! I guess we all know the answer!

There isn't that much of a difference between VBR 256 MP3 and the non VBR 256 AAC Apple uses. Whether you can hear it or not depends on what you are listening with, though I doubt it's that noticable.
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