GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

February 16, 2006

180px-Fonzie.jpgThis morning’s Wall Street Journal included an article (paidContent.org summary) about Amazon’s forthcoming plans for its online music service, which will include “Amazon-branded portable music players, designed and built for the retailer, and a subscription service that would deeply discount and preload those devices with songs.”

I will welcome a music service from Amazon, as I am currently frustrated with Apple’s iTunes and its stringent DRM and proprietary format. Because of that issue and the accuracy of Amazon’s personalized recommendations, I currently purchase all of my music in CD format from the e-retailer. It will be interesting see how Amazon’s offering treats the DRM issues and subscription pricing.

One paragraph in the article opens, “This would be the first time Amazon tries to sell its own branded player, so it’s unclear how consumer would react.” This statement is putting it mildly. While Warner Music Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. said subscriptions services’ [like those offered by Napster and Realnetworks] “growth and popularity has been impacted by the lack of an outstanding device,” I think there’s a larger issue at play here. As many have suggested previously, a significant portion of the success of the iPod is due to its “coolness factor.” The device has become a status symbol, a fashion accessory, and a self-expression vehicle.

While Amazon may be able to create a superior or even equivalent device with the aid of Samsung, I question if the Amazon brand can carry the same caché that Apple and its iPod does. If the device and corresponding offerings are superior, the feature-conscious users should switch, but I am not so sure that the fashion-conscious will.

The Fonz used to start the music with a pound of his fist on the jukebox – I wonder if he would use an iPod or “AmazonPod” today.

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