Oh Amazon, Why Can’t You Be More Like iTunes?

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Recent numbers show that iTunes accounts for about 66% of the downloadable music market, with Amazon trailing a distant second at around 13%. There are two big reasons Amazon should be kicking the bits out of iTunes, but Apple’s stubbornly immovable music service only seems to keep getting bigger and stronger.

Amazon beats iTunes in two of what you’d think would be the most fundamental areas: price and device support. Most Amazon tracks cost just 99 cents and it routinely discounts entire albums to $4, whereas Apple’s tracks fluctuate between 99 cents and $1.29 with very rare instances of complete albums selling for under $10. Amazon also uses the much more common MP3 format which is playable on just about any portable device, while iTunes only works with Apple products.

(To clarify, iTunes’ AAC format is playable on Apple products and certain compatible portable devices. The AAC tracks can be loaded onto compatible non-Apple players using separate software or converted to MP3 files using iTunes and then loaded onto non-Apple players using separate software. You can also burn iTunes-purchased tracks to CDs directly from within iTunes, which are then playable in any CD player.)

Now, Apple’s had a big head start over Amazon so I’m not trying to argue that Amazon should have a bigger share of the market than iTunes right now, but Amazon should be gaining on iTunes at a faster rate than it is. (More on Time.com: Apple’s Hits and Misses So Far)

Amazon’s basic problem has to do with intangibles. Look at its MP3 store:


Can anyone figure out what the crap is going on here?

Contrast with iTunes:


There’s a lot less to read and plenty of easily clickable images.

I’m not saying iTunes is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s got a relatively simple layout and it exists as its own standalone program that connects directly with portable media players.

Amazon makes you install a piece of software before you can start purchasing music, but the software—oh wait, you don’t HAVE to install it but Amazon recommends it because “It is required for album purchases, and makes downloading songs fast and easy.” So without it, downloading songs from Amazon is not fast or easy and you can’t download entire albums.

So while iTunes goes for simplicity, Amazon has some weird software called “the Amazon MP3 Downloader” that it recommends you install but it’s not required. For the record, I buy most of my music from Amazon and I think it’s a cumbersome and painful process. This is coming from someone who works in the technology industry evaluating products and services all day. I can’t imagine how casual consumers view Amazon’s MP3 store. (More on Time.com: Is Amazon Looking to Get into the Streaming Business?)

Amazon’s other-yet-related problem is its insistence on offering everything under one roof. You’re looking for music to download but the site still offers you CDs in the FIRST LINK of the MP3 store’s main header.


Amazon should bite the bullet and just build a store that sells only digital media—music, books, movies, TV shows, and apps. It should be installable just like iTunes in order to facilitate song downloads, music playback and portable device support, but aside from those functions it should simply access a web-based version of itself that customers can use in any browser.

It’d be a cloud-based music service with an installable component that people could use as their desktop music player. Imagine if you got a new computer, installed iTunes on it, and all your videos, TV shows, books and music files were right there—no transferring them over from your old computer or synching them from your iPhone. You’d have access to all your media files from your work computer, too.

Amazon is a big, lumbering player in the cloud right now so it definitely has the expertise and the infrastructure to take the lead on some sort of cloud-based music service. At the very least, though, it needs to offer a decent, straightforward, simplified user experience.

More on TIME.com:

Amazon App Store and Android Tablet in the Works?

Google’s Rumored Music Store and Why It Just Might Work

Amazon Launches Movie Studio, Wants User-Generated Content