Amazon’s AutoRip service launched in the US in January, providing customers with digitised versions of the CD albums they’d bought from its website, and later adding vinyl too.
Now AutoRip is crossing the Atlantic, launching in France, Germany and Italy earlier this week, and the UK today. Amazon now has deals with major and independent labels to make more than 350k albums available through AutoRip as 256Kbps MP3 files or instant streams from customers’ Cloud Player lockers.
Music Ally talked to Steve Boom, Amazon’s VP for digital music, to gauge the likely impact of AutoRip in these countries, based on its performance so far in the US. One interesting point: it’s boosted CD sales.
“You have to understand that in the US, CD is a very rapidly-declining part of the music industry,” said Boom. “Although not at Amazon: our CD sales are growing year-on-year, and since we’ve launched AutoRip, we’ve seen an acceleration.”
AutoRip is one of Amazon’s tactics to bring many more physical-only music buyers into the digital world, with its Cloud Player and MP3 download store – while also acknowledging that many may still want to buy CDs.
“One of the things we’ve done is eliminate the difference between physical and digital music. In the last couple of years, when people have bought a song or album digitally, additionally they get it in the cloud,” said Boom.
“They know it’s always there if their hard drive crashes, and that’s been a great benefit to consumers. So why should physical music be any different? Why should you not get a backup in the cloud of your physical music?”
Amazon rarely gives figures on its digital music business, and AutoRip is no different: the company isn’t saying how many people in the US have used the feature, or even how many are using its Cloud Player.
Boom did have something to say about the attitude of music rightsholders to AutoRip’s launch.
“It’s a question I’ve been asked many times: was it hard to get the record labels to agree to it. And the answer has been no: it really wasn’t,” said Boom, although he admitted that this hasn’t always been the case.
“We wish we could have done this many years ago, but we weren’t able to: we couldn’t have gotten the rights several years ago, so things have changed. Record labels have been supportive.”
The 350k albums available through AutoRip in Europe represent a big step up from the 50k that were available in January when it launched in the US. Boom said Amazon has deals with all the major labels and “hundreds” of indies.
“It’s been a long time since someone had made added-value for the concept of music ownership, making it great to own music versus stealing music,” said Boom.
“That’s the downside of CDs versus filesharing: that digital file is easy to get on your phone, iPod, tablet and other devices. We’ve taken that advantage away and really added value.”
Amazon is also pitching AutoRip to labels and artists as something that adds value back to owning an entire album, rather than simply cherry-picking individual tracks.
“The digital business is very track-focused, and not as much album-focused. Artists like this because it encourages people to buy the whole album,” he says. “They get paid more, but also the album is really their work of art: a period of time in their musical development.”
One of the unanswered questions about cloud music lockers in 2013 concerns not discovery – a big topic for on-demand streaming services – but rediscovery: helping people navigate through the albums they’ve bought over the last 15 years and more.
“It’s a very good question. In many ways AutoRip is the first step to helping people rediscover their music, in that they see albums they’d forgotten they even own,” said Boom.
“But in the longer term you’re right, it’s a problem that needs to be solved, and you’ll see us doing more and more stuff there. Amazon is known for its recommendation technology, and while right now our main focus is getting people to get their music into the cloud, once we get it there, our attention will naturally turn to these other challenges.”
And a streaming music service? Music Ally knows better than to expect Boom to merrily spill Amazon’s plans to follow Google (with the on-demand Google Play Music All Access) and Apple (with the personal-radio iTunes Radio) into the streaming market.
But he does have some views on why ownership still matters alongside access to streaming music. “The rise of streaming services is undeniable, and they provide really good services,” said Boom.
“There is no indication that access will replace ownership any time soon. Access will become more and more important, ownership will continue to be important, and some people will do both.”
One final question concerns tablets. The music industry is mustard-keen on tablets in 2013, as rightsholders try to understand how this category of device is used for music, and what the opportunities might be for artists and rightsholders.
“People really do use them as music devices. We see a very, very high engagement rate of Kindle Fire customers engaging with our music services, both in terms of playing their music, and continuing to buy music,” said Boom.
“Everything I’ve read on the subject indicates that music is one of the categories that’s used most heavily on tablets. And Kindle Fire has been great for Amazon: it’s really beneficial to our music business.”