At first look, Amazon.com's digital music service has all the right pieces. I'll ignore a few glitches here and there in the interest of fairness -- not a full catalog, not all CD search results cross-link to the available digital catalog, etc. -- as it is technically a beta launch.
What's important to remember is that Amazon has no chance of toppling Apple in the immediate future. None. Even if it had a full catalog of major label content with rapid-fast links and completely cross-navigational discovery feature. Just wouldn't happen.
At least not quickly.
Apple already captured the low-hanging fruit in the digital download market. Amazon's effort is not designed to lure users from iTunes. It's designed to bring new digital buyers to the market. And that will take time.
With that in mind, I'll say it again -- Amazon's service has all the right pieces and shows the company is in it for the long haul. It doesn't require some fancy, graphics-heavy application and instead uses the existing web-based navigation that its users are accustomed to. Users can buy digital tracks using their existing Amazon account, which includes credit card info. And when I look for a CD, I sometimes get a link to the download as well.
And the pricing couldn't be better. While a few tracks are 89 cents, more impressive are the deep discounts given to more catalog items... as low as $5. That's variable pricing at its best-designed to drive album sales, not tracks.
Oh, and it's DRM free.
This is a war of attrition. Amazon is not dependent on the digital music store to survive, so is in no hurry to make a big splash with it no matter how much we in the press may be clamoring for an instant heavyweight contender. It can afford to wait for other labels to get on board.
And for those afraid that the new store may fragment the digital music market further -- get a clue. DRM is fragmenting the market. Amazon is diversifying it, and that's precisely what the digital marketplace needs.
The Long Tail folks, the Long Tail. All this focus on the big Fiddy vs. Kanye vs. Chesney battle misses the mark a bit when placed against the theory that what will save the music industry will be lots of moderate-selling albums, not a few blockbuster titles.
The music industry isn't alone here. Look at all the hype around Halo 3.
For the attention commanded by a Kayne or a Halo, all sorts of good music (and videogames) get overlooked. Sure, the blockbusters are nice for a few extra bucks and it makes a good headline. But the focus needs to be more on how to better monetize the broader field.