Music Without Borders — How Amazon Can Go One-Up On iTunes

from the drm-at-the-border dept

Recently, we mentioned that Amazon’s MP3 Download Store got the DRM-free part right but screwed up on the pricing model — the real Achilles heel of iTunes. As it turns out there’s another angle from which Amazon could go one-up on iTunes: extend the offering across more countries. The moment I heard about the launch, I enthusiastically hit Amazon’s MP3 Download Store and eagerly clicked on a “Buy MP3” link only to be greeted with a “We are sorry… We could not process your order because of geographical restrictions on the product which you were attempting to purchase. Please refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Wow! What’s that again? Geographical restrictions on music? Because I am a citizen of India and not a citizen of a country where the music labels think that DRM-free music should be made downloadable? That’s just dumb. Similarly, a long time ago, iTunes informed me that I don’t have a “foreign” credit card and hence it won’t let me download stuff although I am willing to pay for it. There are more than a few ironies here:

  • The music that I am trying to purchase is readily available DRM-free on CDs at a store nearby. So why place an embargo on the digital one?
  • I can order stuff from Amazon and have them international-couriered to India, but I can’t download a digital file off Amazon because I am in India.

Here’s my feedback to Amazon: If you really want to exploit the “long tail” and “short head” economics of online music and be anywhere close to a threat to iTunes, look at creating a world where music is not constrained by borders. You have the clout to do that.

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Companies: amazon, apple

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Comments on “Music Without Borders — How Amazon Can Go One-Up On iTunes”

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Think it through says:

Lots of assumptions being made

The writer has mad tons of assumptions.
He has made it personal and an attack against his country, maybe because he is aware of piracy issues in India.

BUT.. Most of these companies are not really legally global. They are broken up around the world. This is also a trial.

It may just be that they have not negotiated contracts with the subsidiaries that own the rights in India. Maybe it the trail goes good they will.

Odd how we can assume stuff.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Ranting at the Wrong Group

You are ranting at the wrong group. Amazon can offer music of any kind only where the music cartel allows it. If you’ve got an issue with not being able to buy music from Amazon, you need to talk to the RIAA. Good luck with that.

He pretty clearly says that Amazon should have the clout to push the record labels into the right direction.

Bonzo says:

Hamstrung by the labels

You guys are assuming that Amazon and Apple have the flexibility to call these shots. Of *course* the retailers want to sell DRM-free music with flexible pricing across international borders.

Unfortunately, the retailers are hamstrung by the record labels, who own the rights to the tracks and impose onerous conditions on their retailers. Selling music isn’t like selling an camera– the retailer never “owns” the product.

If you want to complain that someone doesn’t “get it”, start with Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI.

Nick (profile) says:

I think that point is that international licensing regimes are not compatible with the globalized market place. If there were some sort of standardized protocol to handle this instead of havening to negotiate individually with each country, all steak holders (publishers, retailers, and customers) could benefit. Instead they are stuck in a packaged goods mentality.

It will be difficult to try to have some sort of automated, international fast-track licensing system because the organizations that have the power to change it might have less power after the changes are made, and that is not a chance they want to take. I think the old publishing/licensing stake holders will all have to die off before real innovation can happen (since it is pretty clear they would rather risk dying than losing power). But hats off to Apple for being able to work within the confines of the current regime. The stake holders need to keep in mind: you can’t compete with free (p2p).

Doug Robb (profile) says:

Copyright Rides Again

I agree with the comments that it’s more of an issue to do with the various record label rights holders. They still want to segement markets and charge what the market will bear in each market.

In various ways this is illegal among the wave of free trade agreements that have been signed in many of these markets (Australia is one) but given this took many years to get sorted out with CD’s and the like (remember the region codes locking media to players) I don’t expect anything to happen soon.

DVD-ZA says:

The RIAA / MPAA version of the real world

A couple of extra examples as to how lunatic this has become:

1. I am writing this comment from South Africa, which is DVD zone 2;
2. A couple of years back (I am not sure of the current situation) South Africa was producing DVD’s for zone 2, which includes the UK;
3. The [locally-produced] DVD’s were all exported, i.e. were not made available locally. So I was in the ridiculous situation of only being able to purchase a locally-produced DVD from Amazon UK.
4. To make it worse, it is still normally cheaper to purchase & ship a DVD from Amazon UK than it is to purchase locally …

Incidentally, I don’t think that it is even possible to purchase a ‘strictly zone 2’ DVD player locally: all are multi-zone, and have been that way since the advent of DVD players 8)

Fred (user link) says:

You guys really should stop writing about the Amazon store. You keep attacking Amazon for things that are beyond their control. The most realistic estimates are that Apple pays the labels about $0.70 per song sold. Amazon could sell for less than that except at a loss. The geographic restrictions are likewise a condition imposed by the labels. Exactly what clout is it you think Amazon has?

CB says:

Even if you have a U.S. credit card...

Even if you have a U.S. credit card and valid mailing address, Amazon will not let you download MP3s if your IP is not in their ‘geographically approved’ area. iTunes on the other hand does. I guess Amazon has never heard of people who travel overseas or expats. (This holds true also for their awful Unbox service.) It’s very ironic since I can order CDs and DVDs for delivery to an overseas address all the time. What’s the difference, other than the delivery medium? Stupid, just stupid.

Fred Collin (user link) says:

Actually amazon just recently implemented this.

I have made several purchases on Sept 27th and 28th from Amazon even though I am located in Canada (we’re supposed to have a free trade agreement with the USA, the NAFTA), I even had some troubles downloading my first album and managed to redownload it with Amazon’s help. But since yesterday they have blocked me and I wrote and they said I just can’t buy from them, what was good 5 days ago is not right anymore. Also I have a US address and a credit card bill there, I am just located in Canada right now… My guess is that they lookup the IP addresses through ARIN, so maybe just using a US proxy could bypass their check. I’ll look into this.

Fred Collin (user link) says:

UPDATE on Amazon's geographical methods

Ok I have tried purchasing MP3s again on by using US proxy servers BUT IT DOES NOT WORK, so Amazon is not looking at the IP address to determine your location. They must rely on your credit card number which is unique to the issuing bank and therefore you cannot fool them with US billing addresses…. Unless (will try this later) you make your purchases with a US Visa Gift Card. This is what I have found out so far.

Karlyn says:

Re: UPDATE on Amazon's geographical methods


I am an American temporarily in Sweden. I was able to successfully download a free video several days ago, but today when I tried to purchase, I was geographically restricted. It’s definitely not the credit card (mine is a U.S. bank with a U.S. billing address as I still have a residence in the U.S.).

The proxy server you tried probably did not hide your IP address from Amazon.

D.D. says:

Has anyone tried using a US Paypal credit card?

I’ve got a US Amazon account, with a US billing address, a US IP address, but a UK credit card. Amazon customer service told me this UK card is the reason I can’t purchase an MP3 download from them. I was wondering whether or not getting a Paypal Credit/debit card would help me. Everytime I login to my US Paypal account, they ask me if I want one. I’m thinking of accepting the offer, just so I’ve got a US based credit card.

The question is, does Amazon consider a Paypal card as a proper US card when it’s linked to a US Paypal account with a US Billing address. If not, then I won’t bother getting a card with them.

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