Now that Amazon.com has confirmed it is developing an MP3 download store and has signed up EMI as its first major label partner, questions will now begin
to swirl about launch timing and specifics of the new service.

Amazon confirms that the store will bow later this year and will feature millions of racks from more than 12,000 labels. However, the online retail giant is keeping mum on what other labels have licensed content for the offering, when it exactly plans to introduce it, or what it will look like beyond being a download store. Likewise the company declined to comment on whether its prepared to launch the service sans the support of the other major labels all of whom have been publicly opposed to the notion of selling music in a digital format minus-digital rights management.

However, Amazon acknowledges that DRM issues have been a continual sticking point to its long-simmering digital music plans.

"It has been a huge issue," Bill Carr, executive VP of digital media for Amazon says of the company's DRM-interoperability concerns. "Our approach from day one has been, 'We want to launch a service, but we want it to be a great customer experience.' And with the challenges of interoperability and the challenges of being able to offer digital music that will play on most devices we just didn't feel like we could offer a great customer experience."

Barney Wragg, global head of digital for EMI, says the fact that interoperability has been keeping players like Amazon out of the market validates its new strategy unveiled at the beginning of April to sell music from its catalog DRM-free.

"To see someone like Amazon to do this in this way, I do think it is an important signal," Wragg says of Amazon's insistence on selling in MP3. "This deal shows our vision is aligned with the visions of some very major, very significant retailers with a long track record of providing the right proposition to the consumer."

Amazon is one of several retailers EMI unveiled DRM-free licensing deals with today. The major label, which is attempting to expanded the number of viable digital music retailers beyond just Apple Inc.'s iTunes, disclosed similar pacts with VirginMega in France and Telenor, Musicbrigade, Inprodicon Basepoint Media, Aspiro and Paragallo in Scandinavia.

While the other major labels continue to voice concerns about the potential
piracy implications of selling digital music in an unprotected format, Wragg says EMI sees no distinction between its approach to selling downloads in an unprotected format and selling CDs minus copy protection - a strategy the entire industry has been pursuing for the last 25 years.

Adds Carr, "We're confident that what we are doing is going to help enable more digital music sales, not less."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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