When discussing the new Amazon AutoRip feature with friends, I was excited. I’ve been shopping at Amazon since 1998 or so and I have spent quite a bit of money there. I’ve also been ripping my own CDs since that time, but getting more content in the cloud without any work on my part is always welcome.
But when Amazon sent me the email that I had new content in the cloud via AutoRip, there were only 4 albums added. And 2 of them were gifts I had bought for other people.
So, I had only purchased 4 physical CDs (at least that qualified for AutoRip) via Amazon in the last 15 years. I must not be the audience that Amazon is going for. Why then even bother making this feature?
Amazon’s entrance into the digital market has been a cautious one, and the path is littered with value-adds such as this where they provided relatively little value in absolute terms. But the overall arc is much more important. Amazon provides reassurance: “This is your home.” “This is where your interests are protected.”
Look at iTunes versus Amazon several years ago. Apple negotiated the big deal with labels and Apple took all of the spoils for the first year or so. Amazon came along with less than all of the labels, but they had a value-add in the form of DRM-free. Even Apple couldn’t get that. In fact, Apple had to develop FairPlay just to get the deal.
What Amazon did was compete with Apple on an entirely different playing ground: “You can purchase here with the assurance that you can take your music anywhere.” And Apple eventually got that working for them as well, but most iTunes customers have no idea that their music is DRM-free. I know because they tell me.
Whether most of Amazon’s customers understand DRM is not as relevant as the fact that Amazon benefits from playing nice with the ecosystem.
Take Steam and PC gaming as another example. Long before digital distributions, disc-based games were saddled with horrific copy-protection on CDs that did some combination of prevent legitimate back ups of your game’s media and restrict installing the game on more than one PC at a time. While all the game publishers were busy finding new ways to prevent leakage, Steam started the process of deeply discounting digital video games. “Deeply discounting” is really understating it. But Valve was essentially building monetary leakage into the distribution process.
That’s useful because if customers believe they are getting more value than they are paying, they will come back. “This is your home and all of your stuff is already here.” That’s the most important aspect of the cloud computing movement for any company. People have to feel that they have persistence in your environment. If you can buy that by writing off your 30% distribution cut and talking your publisher/developer into lopping off another 30% temporarily, then you are building momentum and furthering your relationship.
Amazon gets this. Which is why they price match digital sales. Which is why they sell gamers Steam-activated games… and Origin-activated games… and DRM-free games… The only common-denominator is that you can buy all of these through Amazon. So no matter who loses the next digital platform battle, Amazon can win the war… Or maybe be the arms dealer?
But for now, AutoRip and me don’t really need each other. I stopped buying physical CDs a while ago. But somewhere, there’s a little old lady who has no idea how much she should be loving AutoRip, right now.