New York — Warner Music became the latest major music company to open ups its entire catalog to Amazon for a la carte downloading in unprotected MP3 format.
With the announcement, Amazon’s music downloading service (www.amazon.com/mp3) now offers more than 2.9 million songs free of digital rights management (DRM) technology. The DRM-free songs include the entire catalogs of EMI and Universal and about 33,000 independent music companies, including most major independent labels, an Amazon spokeswoman said. Of the big four music companies, only Sony BMG has withheld its catalog from authorized sites for DRM-free downloads, and only EMI has authorized DRM-free downloads of its entire catalog from multiple sites, including Apple’s iTunes, marketers said.
The announcement marks the first time Warner has made its entire catalog available in MP3 format, having enabled MP3 downloads on a selective basis as a beta test, marketers said. “We believe that giving consumers the assurance that the music they purchase can be played on any device they own will only encourage more sales of music,” said Michael Nash, Warner Music Group’s digital strategy and business development senior VP.
The announcement also reflects the music industry’s impatience with failed industry efforts to develop a protected format that can play back on MP3 devices other than those offered by market-share leader Apple, analysts noted. In addition, it reflects the music-industries desperation to boost authorized-download sales at a time when total music-industry revenues are on the decline. As of mid-December, year-to-date music-album sales (physical media and downloads) were down 10 percent in units when multiple individual-track downloads are counted as albums, SoundScan reported.
The growing DRM-free movement is also seen as a music-industry effort to break Apple’s lock on the authorized music-download market, analysts said. They noted that Warner’s announcement fell on the eve of the expiration of its agreement with Apple to allow authorized downloads using Apple’s proprietary Fair Play DRM technology, which Apple does not license to any other MP3 player supplier or download service.
Like other music companies, Warner continues to use DRM technology to protect music streamed and downloaded from subscription-streaming sites, subscription-download services and over-the-air cellular download services.
Amazon launched its DRM-free downloads in September with the EMI and Universal catalogs to “offer customers the freedom to play music on virtually any music device, including [cellular] phones,” a spokeswoman said. The songs are not watermarked with an identifying marker that could identify the sources of downloaded songs that are then shared with unauthorized users, Amazon noted.
Most songs available on Amazon MP3 are priced from $0.89 to $0.99, and more than 1 million of them cost $0.89. Most albums are priced from $5.99 to $9.99. All songs are encoded at 256kbps to deliver “high audio quality at a manageable file size,” the company said.