Now, just when did I buy Carole King’s “Tapestry”?
Not when the iconic album came out on vinyl in the ’70s. If I wanted to hear it back then, I just had to stroll down the hall of my college dorm, since every other room was playing it.
But at some point, I did purchase it on compact disc from Amazon.com. (AMZN:US) Though I never got around to copying the tracks to my digital music collection, and the disc is long-lost, I can now listen to it anytime I want thanks to a new Amazon service called AutoRip.
The idea behind AutoRip is simple. Buy an eligible CD from Amazon and get access to the tracks in digital form for free. Forget having to wait even the two days for Amazon Prime delivery of the disc: The digital tracks are available as soon as you click the “Purchase” button. Talk about instant gratification.
Amazon gives you the choice of either streaming a track from the cloud or downloading it to save a local copy. Recent releases by Adele, Mumford & Sons and Carrie Underwood are among those that now include digital access, as is the movie cast recording of “Les Miserables.”
The real treat, though, is that you effortlessly gain MP3 versions of music dating back to 1998, when Amazon first began selling CDs. That, of course, was three years before Apple (AAPL:US) released the first iPod, which revolutionized how we listen to music, and five years before its iTunes Music Store created a legal, mass marketplace for digital tracks.
You access your AutoRip songs via Amazon’s Cloud Player service and software, which is built into the company’s Kindle Fire tablets and is available as a free app for iPods and iPhones and for devices running Google (GOOG:US)’s Android software.
You can also play the songs through the web browser on any Windows PC or Mac, or via Internet-connected Samsung (005930) TVs, Roku’s streaming-media set-top box and the Sonos multi-room music system.
Logging into AutoRip with my Amazon username and password was like opening a musical time capsule. There were 148 tracks in the vault, many of which I’d never bothered to rip -- either out of laziness or to save space back in the days when storage wasn’t as cheap and generous as it is now.
Besides Ms. King, AutoRip gave me unexpected digital access to some vintage Rolling Stones tracks, Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown” and a little Jason Mraz, among others.
I can also now listen to 1999’s “Europop,” from the Italian dance band Eiffel 65, which I apparently purchased on CD for my then-grade-school-aged daughter. I’m told the track “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” was ubiquitous toward the end of the Clinton administration, though you couldn’t prove it by me.
Although Amazon really, really wants you to use its software rather than Apple’s or someone else’s to play your tracks, you can incorporate them into an existing iTunes library. In my case, I downloaded Amazon’s free MP3 installer to my Mac, then selected the AutoRip tracks to be saved to the computer.
For some reason, the auto-import function on the Mac failed, so I had to open the Mac’s Finder, locate the files, and manually add them to iTunes. The process was smoother on a Windows PC, where the songs were automatically added to iTunes.
There are a number of caveats about the AutoRip service. For one thing, so far it’s only available to U.S. customers. In addition, only about 50,000 of the vast number of albums in Amazon’s catalogue are included, though the company says it will be adding more content -- both past and present-day.
What’s there so far skews heavily toward popular music. So my 2001 purchase of Vivaldi string concertos isn’t included. Nor is my 2003 copy of “Abbey Road.” (iTunes still has the exclusive franchise on the Beatles.)
But given that I never expected to get digital versions of those CDs in the first place, it seems a little churlish to gripe. AutoRip is an unexpected gift from Amazon to its customers, not to mention a potentially potent weapon in its struggle with Apple and Google to dominate the delivery of digital content to tablets, phones and other devices.
Meanwhile, I’m already imagining what it would be like to have an AutoRip service for books I’ve purchased from Amazon over the years. Publishers, are you listening?
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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