I found this article today via the A.V. club. It discusses the interplay between Apple and Amazon over the latter's "Daily Deal", a feature that lets customers buy certain classic or new-release albums for (relatively) dirt cheap prices, sometimes a day before the street release date. Naturally, Apple doesn't like it, but what's unnatural (to me) is that some major record labels feel like they should stop participating in these kinds of promotions out of, presumably, fear of missing out on business on the iTunes store, or something like that. It seems as though the sheer potential sales volume on the iTunes store is enough to keep people from pissing off Apple, which is unfortunate. How can new music download models, like the Daily Deals, be phased in to the system with this kind of looming fear?
I also saw this article on NPR yesterday about a new music streaming service, Spotify, that has been popular in Europe. The article casually mentioned Apple's acquisition of Lala, a website that I have been using fairly frequently, but a deal that I didn't know about, even though it apparently happened at the end of last year. The music uploader on Lala is fine, but not great (it's rather slow and misidentifies/doesn't recognize the occasional song), but the feature I like is being able to stream every song once for free. It lets me preview an album before I buy it and lets me check out an artist's catalog before buying a ticket to see a show. I hope this feature doesn't get lost in the transition. Check out this article on PC World for some hypotheses about the merger's consequences.
Anyway, I'd also like to use this post to point out some of the download websites I use. I've bought albums on iTunes before, but now I don't even have iTunes on my Linux system. I have never used Amazon, actually, but I think I will start checking out these Daily Deals just to see what's offered. A couple years ago I discovered eMusic and have been very happy with it. It's more suited for purchasing full albums than singles, which I like, and the catalog of small label releases is garagantuan. At first, I used it to fill in my collection of bands I knew and loved, but gradually I started using it to seek out new artists. The editors do well with recommendations, and the other users on the site seem to have good tastes, and perusing the "top-downloaded" charts is actually quite helpful.
A different kind of download site is Amie Street, which I learned about via the eMusic forums, actually. The idea is that albums (and individual tracks) are released with a price of $0.00, and the price increases with the number of downloads. This has let me get a lot of new, popular albums for free or almost free. Another neat feature is that you can "Rec" (as in recommend) any track; if you "rec" a track that costs $0.25 and it later jumps to $0.75$, you can cash in on that differential. If you rec a song when it's free, when you cash in later you get the full change; if the song was strictly positive in price, you get half the difference. You can choose to cash in at any future time. Since lots of new albums are released on Tuesdays, this has meant a lot of late Monday nights for me, refreshing the "New Releases" page around midnight and nabbing the new releases and trying to rec lots of tracks before the price goes up. It sounds crazy, but it's fun.