By AUSTEN GREGERSON
In the aftermath of illegal file-sharing giant LimeWire being shut down by the federal government, media consumers are now scrounging for ways to find music, movies and TV shows without actually paying the full retail price. Back when the site was in full operation, there seemed to be no end to the amount of content flowing between the site’s users (all of which was, of course, stealing). But even though this juggernaut of file sharing is gone as an example to be made to the rest of the industry, so was Napster, and its punishment of relegation back to legitimate downloading means has apparently done little to quell the newest generation’s addiction to finding what they want to listen to for free.
A few different services have arrived to try to convert that energy from illegal Internet downloads to actually paying for the content, most notably iTunes and the Amazon.com MP3 Store. iTunes has basically become the gold standard for such downloading, despite its many faults. Other than recently raising some of its prices from 99 cents o $1.29 on the more popular singles and album prices from $9.99 to $12.99, the tricky thing about the files iTunes uses is that they are not plain-jane MP3s. Instead, they are a file specific to Apple, which makes them almost completely useless outside of your iPod or music library. This isn’t normally a problem, as the quality of the music is always excellent, but the inability to take songs you legally purchased and put them on a physical CD is extremely frustrating, especially after enjoying the freedoms of the newly shutdown “Wild West” of Internet downloading.
This is where Amazon has made its biggest push into the iTunes market, which has soundly beaten all other competition in the field of legal downloading as of late. Amazon offers completely normal MP3 files, allowing users to download and use the tracks they purchased as they see fit. Being much more in line with the experience of buying a digital copy of a CD, often times cheaper than their rival iTunes, it’s no surprise they have been making inroads. The biggest hurdle still facing Amazon is undoubtedly the difference in catalog sizes. iTunes is so massive, and along with the addition of the Beatles catalog, you’re simply more likely to find the band you want to listen to there than anywhere else. It is still unseen if Amazon will ever make a cut into the stranglehold iTunes has – more than 13 million songs – but that task will undoubtedly take time to accomplish.
Some of the other legitimate downloading services include the aforementioned Napster, Europe’s favorite music streaming website Spotify (which has recently landed on our shores), and stalwart Rhapsody. But there has been a growing concern that these sites may die off, leaving only iTunes and its current 70 percent share of the market to further dominate. Limiting options are almost always in the worst interest of the consumer, but after the consumer taking advantage of the content producers for so long, they may not be the first to jump to their defense.