Amazon's music download site is cheaper than iTunes 78% of the time

By Lindsay Sakraida on October 10, 2013, 8:30 AM
amazon, download, itunes, music, google play, mp3, dealnews, apple itunes

The Apple iPod, introduced in 2001, may be the device most responsible for sparking the digital music era. And now, over a decade later, consumers have access to a wide variety of digital music made available by download through a variety of sources. However, three vendors in particular — Apple's own iTunes Music Store, Amazon, and Google Play — stand above the rest.

But despite this triumvirate of digital music stores backed by major international brands, only one truly dominates the market. And that is, of course, iTunes. According to data from the NPD Group, about 63% of all digital music sales occur through iTunes. That accounts for 8 out of 10, or 80%, of digital music shoppers — and that 80% is likely overpaying.

iTunes Dominates, But Amazon Is Cheaper

For many people, buying iTunes music is an act of convenience. However, through our daily deal hunting, we have discovered that Amazon more frequently offers discounts on MP3 downloads. Regardless, people are still overwhelmingly buying from iTunes, which rarely — if ever — slashes the price on its digital wares. Thus, we set out to see just how much the convenience of downloading music through the iTunes Music Store is costing consumers.

Over the course of four weeks, our staff noted the prices on a variety of singles and albums at iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Each week, we checked the prices of Billboard's top 20 singles and albums, as well as CMJ's top 20 albums (to account for indie offerings). The results of this research show that Amazon offers a better album price than iTunes 77.5% of the time. For shoppers who are primarily interested in Billboard's top albums, then Amazon music downloads are cheaper a whopping 84% of the time.

Albums That Are Up to 50% Less

Of course, there's a caveat; music from Amazon, as well as Google Play, is cheaper largely because both stores tend to offer albums that are just 50 cents less than iTunes, by default. For some people, this half-dollar difference is negligible and won't impact where they buy music online.

However, when considering the average price difference of the 160 albums we checked across the stores, Amazon's albums were $1.08 cheaper. Thus, for a shopper who doesn't want to think about his purchases, always opting for Amazon would, over time, net an average savings of about $1 per album purchased. On a case by case basis though, the savings can be more substantial. For the music we compared, Amazon offered prices that were up to 50% cheaper than those from the iTunes Music Store, which translated to a savings of as much as $6 per album.

It's important to note that like Amazon, Google Play is also frequently cheaper than the iTunes Music Store. However, unlike Amazon, Google's digital music prices mostly adhere to the 50-cents-off trend. As such, the average savings of the 160 albums we checked was only $0.58; to boot, Google Play rarely offers significant price cuts like Amazon does. So while you can comfortably get cheaper albums through Google Play than you can via the iTunes Music Store, you're unlikely to find sweeping weekly sales that knock up to 50% off albums.

Deep Discounts Skip the Singles Market

Not surprisingly, this relationship in which Amazon and Google Play are cheaper than iTunes doesn't apply to the always-popular MP3 download, the single. When checking Billboard's top 20 songs, across the board, the three best music download sites almost always charged $1.29; Amazon Music and Google Play were only cheaper than iTunes 7% of the time.

Forgoing discounts on singles makes sense from a business perspective, as it's much easier for a seller to market single MP3s than full albums. As such, music download sites have little incentive to discount the most in-demand MP3s. Unfortunately for the consumer, this means that deal hunting for popular singles is largely a fool's errand. Another way to look at it, however, is this: if you ever see a top single priced at less than $1.29, then you can be fairly certain that it's a rare discount and worth snatching up.

The Bottom Line

No matter how you slice it, shoppers who blindly buy music online through the iTunes Music Store are missing out on significant savings. According to Nielsen SoundScan, U.S. shoppers bought 111.7 million digital albums in 2012; if 63% were sold through iTunes, as the NPD Group report suggests, that's 70.3 million albums sold by Apple. However, if albums bought through Amazon are on average $1 cheaper, then in theory, Americans paid a cumulative $70.3 million more than they needed to on digital music. While purely speculative, it's a staggering thought.

Just as there is no one right way to stream music, there is no one best music download site. This reality makes it all the more important for consumers to know where their money is best spent when buying music online. While many people opt to buy from iTunes out of convenience, there's no denying the fact that a shopper who doesn't at least check Amazon — and, to a lesser extent, Google Play — before downloading music online is also sacrificing savings.

Republished with permission. Lindsay Sakraida is the dealnews Features Director. She specializes in writing about shopping trends and lifestyle subjects.




User Comments: 14

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Guest said:

Too bad Google Music or Amazon Music are not available in Canada.

1 person liked this | Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

This leaves out an important point though, the Quality of the files themselves, iTunes generally has a decent rate AAC file format or MP3 both are usually 256kbps (or higher).

Amazon is usually 128kbps or 192kbps on the same albums (or at least it was in my case) and I am quite happy to pay an extra couple of pence for a better quality sound.

2 people like this | MilwaukeeMike said:

Apple is more expensive than it's competitors? I'm shocked! It's actually more surprising that this is even a news story.

Good to hear they at least are giving out higher quality files, although in my experience it takes a keen set of ears to tell the difference between 196k and 256k mp3s.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

It just goes to show that how many Apple users wear blinkers. As they say BS baffles brains and I'll give Apple credit here, they've got it down to fine art.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Apple is more expensive than it's competitors? I'm shocked! It's actually more surprising that this is even a news story.

Good to hear they at least are giving out higher quality files, although in my experience it takes a keen set of ears to tell the difference between 196k and 256k mp3s.

This isn't really news, more of an Advert for Amazon I think? Apple has always been expensive and have never done anything particularly cheap so it definitely isn't news.

I guess your right to an extent when it comes to something like rap music, techno and rock though there is a clear difference :/ or at least I can hear the difference quite clearly, its the highs, such as the crash of a symbol, just sound dead and fuzzy in anything lower than 256kbps, That might just be me though...

1 person liked this | Guest said:

Just have to comment on the idea that "iPods" sparked the digital music era. I think the word you're looking for is "Napster"

Scavengers Scavengers said:

Just an FYI, but I have only bought 17 songs from Amazon but each one is 256k.

Dave

Scavengers Scavengers said:

Here we go. From Amazon:

"Where possible, we encode our MP3 files using variable bit rates for optimal audio quality and file sizes, aiming at an average of 256 kilobits per second (kbps). Using a variable bit rate allows us to allocate a higher bit rate to the more complex sections of music files while using a smaller bit rate for the less complex sections. The average of these rates is then calculated to produce an average bit rate for the entire file that represents the overall sound quality. Some of our content is encoded using a constant bit rate of 256 kbps. This content will have the same excellent audio quality at a slightly larger file size."

Dave

Guest said:

Amazon is usually 128kbps or 192kbps on the same albums (or at least it was in my case) and I am quite happy to pay an extra couple of pence for a better quality sound.

I'm not sure what albums you purchased or when you tried Amazon last, but Amazon MP3s are most commonly 256 kbps VBR or CBR:

[link]

Any old songs you bought before Cloud Player and the 256 kbps era can be re-downloaded at the improved bit rate. Amazon will also upgrade eligible songs you upload to the cloud to 256 kbps, and with AutoRip, if you bought an eligible CD from them, you automatically (and for free) get the MP3s in your cloud.

Add to that the cross platform cloud player, lower prices, and less lock-in with iTunes & Apple, and I've been a quite happy with Amazon's MP3 offering.

The one thing I wish they had is the 'Complete My Album' feature that Apple offers. Sometimes you're not sure you want the whole album, but soon you've cherry picked enough songs that you're paying more than price of the full album. I like that Apple allows you to upgrade to the album after buying a few singles. If Amazon offered this, their MP3 store would be hands down the #1 choice.

JC713 JC713 said:

This leaves out an important point though, the Quality of the files themselves, iTunes generally has a decent rate AAC file format or MP3 both are usually 256kbps (or higher).

Amazon is usually 128kbps or 192kbps on the same albums (or at least it was in my case) and I am quite happy to pay an extra couple of pence for a better quality sound.

True.

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I just recently picked up Lana Del Ray's album Born to Die from Amazon for $5.99, and all 12 songs on that are 256 kBit/s @ 44100 Hz.

I've been happy with Amazon's service and Cloud Player. I'd recommend it to any user. Saving money is a good thing.

tonylukac said:

All you need is Spotify for streaming. It's free.

Guest said:

You should have mentioned the fact Amazon make you buy each and every MP3 Individually with it's crappy "one click" system (which is actually 5 clicks per MP3). It's a horrendous anti-consumer policy that has not been amended after customer feedback. I'll buy MP3's anywhere but Amazon now - why do these corporate ****** never listen?

ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

You should have mentioned the fact Amazon make you buy each and every MP3 Individually with it's crappy "one click" system (which is actually 5 clicks per MP3). It's a horrendous anti-consumer policy that has not been amended after customer feedback. I'll buy MP3's anywhere but Amazon now - why do these corporate ****** never listen?

I'd like you to meet my friend, E.A...

I guess your right to an extent when it comes to something like rap music, techno and rock though there is a clear difference :/ or at least I can hear the difference quite clearly, its the highs, such as the crash of a symbol, just sound dead and fuzzy in anything lower than 256kbps, That might just be me though...

I can definitely hear the difference between audio qualities with my surround sound and my Sennheiser headphones, especially at excessive volumes.

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