Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Amazon launches music downloads

Amazon MP3 Logo
The online bookseller has branched out into digital music sales

Online retail website Amazon has launched a UK music download service.

Amazon MP3 will sell tracks from 59p and albums from 3.

The new music store will offer more than 3 million songs that will work on any digital music player, including Apple's iPod.

The move puts Amazon in direct competition with Apple for a stake in the growing market of online music sales, which in Britain alone was worth an estimated 163m in 2007.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment's UK chairman, Ged Doherty, said the launch could only be good news for the music industry.

"Amazon's music services in the US have attracted new digital music consumers and helped grow the digital market. We have high hopes that it will have the same impact in the UK."

Unlike many files from Apple's iTunes store, which can only be played through its iTunes interface or on an iPod, the music available from Amazon will be free from the constraints of digital rights management (DRM).

This will be a very positive development for digital music buyers in Britain
Matthew Crosswaite, EMI

As such, once users download a track, they are free to load and play it on any device: personal computers, mobile phones, and portable media players, including the iPod.

The issue of DRM has been a hot topic of late. Advocates say it is an essential tool to combat piracy, but critics say it restricts user choice.

In April 2007, EMI took the DRM off most of its digital music sold via download sites such as iTunes, saying that the best way to combat illegal traffic was to make legal content available at a decent price.

"We're excited about their DRM-free store coming to the UK and we believe that this will be a very positive development for digital music buyers in Britain," said Matthew Crosswaite, EMI's vice president of music sales and commercial development.

Amazon MP3 isn't the first DRM-free music site to be launched in the UK. launched its music service in Feb 2008, selling tracks for 65p and albums from 4.99.

Audiophiles' audio files

Amazon MP3 screen shot
Amazon say that DRM free music is the way of the future

Amazon have also opted for a high-end bit rate encoding for its files - a measure of the degree of compression used when converting files into an MP3 format.

While iTunes tracks protected by DRM use a bit rate of 128 kbit/s, Amazon have gone for double that at 256 kbit/s. However, doubling the bit rate does not double the quality.

Files from are encoded at the MP3s maximum of 320 kbit/s.

By comparison, an uncompressed audio file on a compact disc has a bit rate of 1,411.2 kbit/s

Computer Music Magazines multimedia editor, Tim Cant, said it was hard to make a direct comparison between Apple's and MP3 compression.

"Amazon use 256 kbit/s which on paper may look better, but if you were listening to it on, say, a set of iPod headphones you probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

"However, if you played the same file on a pair of good quality speakers then you may well notice a difference."

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