Amazon Gets Into World Music

And Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) said, let the music downloads come in unencumbered MP3 files, and let the digital music store we always wanted appear: and Amazon saw that it was good. And so the service rolled out across the waters and over distant lands. The exact implementation schedule was not immediately disclosed.

OK, so Jeff Bezos doesn't walk on water, and DRM-free music downloads aren't exactly the second coming -- but the fact that Amazon sees fit to expand its digital music store to international markets means that the model is working. In last quarter's earnings call, Bezos said that his company's freshly launched MP3 sales weren't cutting into CD sales as far as he could tell, possibly paving the way for music labels to open up their catalogs even further. There are 3.3 million songs on offer right now, versus more than 6 million in Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes store, where most downloads come with a side of frustrating usage restrictions.

This is the corollary to the ad-supported music streaming service that Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) hopes to launch someday soon. Pay Amazon a reasonable sum per song, or sit through advertising from Yahoo! -- either way, you'll end up with a digital file that works on nearly any device that plays music at all. I've used the domestic Amazon service for a couple of piano concertos, and was pleased with both the sound quality and ease of ordering. I'm not surprised to see international demand for this kind of offering.

Amazon and Apple have a leg up on the competition because they can fall back on long working relationships with the record labels. "Listen, guys, we've pushed out millions of your CDs -- can we have a shot at this fly-by-night download thing, please? Promise to stop if it hurts." RealNetworks (Nasdaq: RNWK  ) and Napster (Nasdaq: NAPS  ) don't have that kind of cachet, and can only hope that the big boys pave the way into the digital future.

Expect to hear good things about download sales on Wednesday night, when Amazon reports earnings. It won't be enough to tip this quarter's earnings very far, but it's a sign of the times and a promise for the future. And Amazon divided the light from the darkness. And it was good.

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