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itunes alternativesThe world of music is constantly changing. Vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and now MP3s – and that means that we’ve gone from analog to digital. The best thing about digital music, in my opinion, is that you can purchase it in full online without ever leaving the seat of your desk. But the latest question in online music purchases is – where?

For a long time, iTunes was the de facto leader in online music sales, mostly because everyone flocked to the iPod and praised the seamless transition between it and the iTunes Store. Fast-forward a few years later and now we have plenty of competitors that sell music online. iTunes may still be the largest, but it’s not the best and it’s not the cheapest.

Comparison Methodology

For this article, I’m going to test and compare four distinct qualities between all of the online music retailers on this list: price, selection, user-friendliness, and availability.

Price will be testing the comparative prices between the music services for a particular basket of goods. Specifically, I’ll take the complete price (in USD) of the following 5 albums at each site and use that as a measurement. The 5 albums cover a range of genres and artists:

  • Pop by U2.
  • Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • Taylor Swift by Taylor Swift.
  • Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex.
  • Curtis by 50 Cent.

For a baseline measurement, the iTunes Store would sell this bundle for 9.99 + 9.99 + 7.99 + 7.99 + 9.99 = $46.00

Selection will be testing the sheer quantity of songs available at each of the sites. It’s difficult to devise a metric for measuring diversity and variety, but as the total quantity increases, the chance of greater variety increases, too. For a baseline measurement, iTunes Store has over 28 million songs.

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User-Friendliness will be a subjective measure of the look-and-feel and ease-of-use of each site. I like to think that I’ve visited a great number of sites during my still-short lifetime, and though I don’t consider myself an expert in user-friendly design, I’ll be assigning a rating from 1-10 in this category.

And lastly, Availability, which is all about regional limitations to each of these services.

MP3Panda

itunes alternatives

Price: 1.26 + 1.57 + 1.15 + 1.22 + 1.79 = $7. I don’t know how they do it, so don’t ask me, but MP3Panda manages to sell entire albums of songs for the same price as one track at other online music stores. If you want to purchase individual tracks at MP3Panda, they only cost $0.15. If that’s not cheap enough for you, then what is?

Selection: Compared to the big ball players, MP3Panda falls short here. Unlike iTunes, which has 28 million songs, MP3Panda only has 3.6 million songs. But for the price, you really can’t complain here. As long as you want to purchase well-known albums by well-known artists, you’ll probably find it here. However, you are limited to 500 track downloads per 24 hours.

User-Friendliness: The website is not very pretty. It’s not ugly, but it does leave something to be desired. However, it is easy to navigate and everything is very clear and in-your-face. The font is large and the buttons are prominent. It’s no-nonsense here. 7/10.

Availability: Google has MP3Panda located in the United Kingdom, but as far as I can tell, there are no regional limitations for using their service. Their legalese, however, adheres to International Copyright Law and places all responsibility for abuse on the user.

eMusic

alternatives to itunes

Price: 6.18 + 7.79 + 5.19 + 5.19 + 6.49 = $31. Compared to MP3Panda’s basket price, eMusic is a considerable step up. However, compared to iTunes, it’s a 33% savings. The way eMusic works is through subscription: a monthly subscription lets you download a certain number of songs depending on your plan. Single tracks can be bought for $0.49 each.

Selection: eMusic offers over 17 million songs for download, a little more than half of the size of the iTunes Store. But based on a quick browse of their library, they do include some obscure artists and genres that I’ve never heard of, so if you’re looking for a specific unknown artist, you may or may not find it here.

User-Friendliness: The website looks very mid-2000’s in terms of design, but in terms of functionality, it does everything it needs to do. The quick search bar at the top, coupled with the quick dropdown menu filter, made it extremely easy to find what I needed. The layout is clean and easy to navigate. 6/10.

Availability: eMusic services the following countries: United States, Canada, member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland. Using eMusic outside of these locations is a violation of their Terms of Service.

Amazon MP3 Store

alternatives to itunes

Price: 9.49 + 9.99 + 5.99 + 5.99 + 9.49 = $41. Now we’re getting into the more mainstream alternatives to the iTunes Store, and Amazon MP3 is probably as mainstream as we’ll get. Amazon’s offerings are cheaper than Apple’s offerings–marginally, but still cheaper.

Selection: Amazon MP3 Store is, as far as I know, the second largest online music store next to iTunes, coming in at 20 million songs. If you can’t find a song for sale at either iTunes or Amazon, then it’s likely you won’t find it anywhere else. With that said, Amazon’s selection is indeed huge.

User-Friendliness: Having been in the online retail business for over a decade, Amazon knows what it’s doing in the user-friendliness department. Amazon’s design has been tweaked numerous times over the years, and their MP3 store is just fantastic. 9/10.

Availability: Amazon currently has MP3 stores for the following locations: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Italy, Spain. I believe they intend to open up to more countries in the future, but no announcements have yet been made.

7digital

alternatives to itunes

Price: 9.99 + 8.99 + 7.99 + 8.99 + 7.99 = $44. The basket price sits at a $2 difference between 7digital and iTunes. The general trend is that prices for songs in these two online stores will be similar, so if cheaper is the only metric you care about, 7digital may not be the alternative you’re looking for.

Selection: 7digital is a service that’s been around since 2004 and it’s apparently one of the largest online music retailers – equal in size to Amazon’s 20 million songs. They carry all of the popular artists and genres, as well as some of the more obscure ones. In terms of selection, 7digital is one of the best.

User-Friendliness: My biggest complaint with the 7digital site is that it’s really, really slow. Perhaps I was just using it during a coincidentally bad time (maybe their site was experiencing technical difficulties?) but it left a sour taste in my mouth. But otherwise, it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s nothing terrible. 6/10.

Availability: 7digital is available in United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and most of Europe.

Google Play Music

itunes alternatives

Price: 9.49 + 9.49 + 7.99 + 7.99 + 9.49 = $45. In terms of price, Google Play is cheaper than iTunes, but only technically. I would think that a company as large as Google could provide some more savings on their offerings, but I guess the price differential is not an important factor for them.

Selection: Google Play’s selection is not the most impressive. They claim to have “millions” of songs on their store, which I believe, but I did have some trouble finding a few of the more obscure artists on my playlists. If all you want is mainstream music, Google Play should suit you just fine.

User-Friendliness: Google Play’s reinvented design over their older Android Market days is a considerable improvement. Shopping around is easy, fonts are readable, the design is simple and clean, and everything is where it should be. Plus, it’s extremely fast. 8/10.

Availability: At this time, Google Play Music is only available to the United States.

Conclusion

If iTunes works for you and you’re satisfied with it, then by all means, stick with it! I’m not trying to take a jab at Apple or anything. However, you should know that just because iTunes is the most popular online retailer of music doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best. If you’re looking for somewhere else to buy your music, one of the retailers above should do you just fine.

Any thoughts? Suggestions of other music retailers that you think belong on this list? Personal experiences with any of these? Please share them with us in the comments.

Image Credit: MP3 Player Via Shutterstock

  1. JDnHuntsvilleAL
    February 21, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I tried MP3Panda. It had what I was looking for (Chicago VII) and cheap ($1.57) BUT you have to give them a bunch of money up front -- you can't just pay for what you want now. I'm not comfortable with that.

  2. Non-Robot
    February 12, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    God forbid someone pay $1 for a song that costs thousands of dollars to produce. Cheap bastards.

    • nena
      February 20, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      Well if you wanna have like 5000 songs to download on your mp3/ ipod , paying $1 per track is super expensive! Do you have that kind of money ?

  3. jesus
    February 6, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    I was looking for an article like this long time ago!! Finally I have found it.

    Thanks a lot!!!! :D

  4. Detfan
    January 4, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I have downloaded 1,000's of tracks for free using a music downloader app on my Windows phone. I use Mix Radio to play them offline, or through my Xbox, all free. I have never paid a penny for my music, since MP3 format. Many dollars spent on vinlyl and CD's beforehand.

    • seven80seven
      March 7, 2016 at 7:19 am

      you're obviously not an audiophile

  5. Daniel Zhang
    September 21, 2015 at 3:39 am

    Just use youtube. Go to youtube, pick a song you like, copy the link and go to youtube-mp3.org with the - and paste it in the bar. Convert the song and you have it downloaded. Although, it can't exceed over a limit of 20 minutes.

    • Brandon Miranda
      October 24, 2015 at 2:52 am

      And the artist gets no money. The people who make these songs need to make a living.

      • nena
        February 20, 2016 at 7:12 pm

        Well if you have no income and you want to have like more than 1000 song library how would you go about that exactly ?

        • orbit122
          April 23, 2016 at 4:42 pm

          Get a job?? not steal?? do without because you obviously cant afford to have?? Why is music supposed to be free?? why do you think that you deserve to have what you cant afford?? Are you entitled to a meal at a restaurant if you have no money?? Your attitude is why music sucks, no one wants to put out music if they put all their hard work and invest their own money into their projects because entitled POSs think its their right to have it and not pay for it.

        • Negar Navidi
          April 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm

          Well I've been looking for a job . But even then , most people don't make enough to be able to pay thousands of dollars on music. I do buy music I have a vinyl collection pf about 200 records and I do legally convert those songs to MP3s.However newer vinyl records are super expensive. I haven't downloaded any songs for around four years because I don't think it's the right thing to do but I would love some newer songs as well.

  6. Nitish
    January 6, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Hi guys I am from India and I found this site which is very cheaper you should definitely check it out.. http://www.soundsbox.com

    Regards

    Nitish

    • jesus
      February 6, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing Nitish!!

  7. Zak D.
    December 15, 2014 at 4:41 am

    You gave eMusic a 6/10 for design but MP3Panda a 7? MP3Panda is uglier than those old lyrics sites I always find on the Internet. eMusic is very well designed.

    I would go to MP3Panda but from what I've seen on messageboards, a lot of people are saying that they're illegal or based in some foreign country where they don't have the rights to sell this music. I don't know who to believe.

    • Steve Aagard
      August 11, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      They're IP address is registered in Moscow. Russia has very lax copyright laws.

  8. Dweller
    June 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    How about Bandcamp and Media Club...

    http://www.mclub.com.ua/

    http://bandcamp.com/

  9. Leifer
    May 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    From your article it appears that only emusic is really cheaper as all the others differ
    by a few bucks which is almost meaningless unless one is downloading a lot of music.
    In that case, one would use Spotify membership of $5 a month. MP3 panda must be
    doing something illegal as they would be losing money otherwise. Some other users like to just download from illegal torrent sites for free. This shortchanges the recording
    artist for their works and that no matter how one spins it, is just plan wrong.

    • Daniel Saner
      March 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      MP3Panda and the likes are not technically illegal, meaning their operation is legal in the countries they're based in. They sell copies of music that isn't licensed by the rights holders. Music labels aren't happy about this, but in these countries it's legal for them to sell these copies (usually sourced from "pirate" scene releases) if they pay a very small fee per track to the national collecting society.

      The question is whether they're allowed to sell these tracks to people from abroad. Or rather, whether you're allowed to buy from them, because technically they don't need to bother checking, and it would be upon you as a customer to make sure. However the case may be, it's definitely true that if you want to support an artist, you shouldn't buy the music from one of these sites. To the artist, it's no better financially than if you just downloaded the music for free from a fully unlicensed site.

  10. Alexandra
    January 28, 2013 at 3:02 am

    With this post, I know how to enjoy music at low price.

  11. Alexandra
    January 28, 2013 at 3:02 am

    With this post, I know how to enjoy music at low price.

  12. Alexandra
    January 28, 2013 at 3:00 am

    After reading this post. I know how to enjoy music at low price.

  13. Alex Pope
    January 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Check out Freegal, free downloads of music if your local library has a subscription. And you own them.

  14. Steve Aves
    January 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I had an Emusic subscription for almost 6 years. Their jazz and classical selection is excellent and for the money, hard to beat for those two genres. Emusic's hertitage was indie-bands so that's why you see so many unheard of artists.

    Emusic also had audiobooks (don't know if they still do).

    Lastly, all their music is in plain vanilla and NO DRM MP3 format.

  15. Youni
    January 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    today (1/13/2013) MP3Panda says that it is based in Ukraine, an international capital of piracy? http://en.rian.ru/world/20120921/176130900.html
    chuckles? MP3Panda advertises its a soundtrack database as less than 1 terabyte... meaning it could easily operate from anywhere in the world on a moments notice.

  16. Gene Loeb
    January 13, 2013 at 4:06 am

    I felt mislead. I thought we were going to get some free sites (I don't need to have the most famous or most popular, but I don't need an ad for sites.

  17. John Bean
    January 13, 2013 at 1:47 am

    I have used all these services at one time or another,also Rhapsody and iMesh. About a year ago I found Music2PC... an awesome site that finds anything I type in, downloads it and saves to your document file and best of all....is absolutely FREE.

  18. John Bean
    January 13, 2013 at 1:43 am
  19. That dude
    January 10, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Or torrent =P

  20. Adrian
    January 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

    There's just one aspect overlooked - the bitrate of downloaded files.
    iTunes sells everything at 256 kbps, MP3 Panda at 195 kbps. Alhough there's not a big difference when listening on your average headphones, laptop and PC speakers, you'll see/hear a clearer sound on more expensive sound systems. I know most don't care for the extra sound quality, but if you fancy your ears a great album, then a higher bitrate will give you more satisfaction.
    This is not the only difference: while Amazon sells its music at 256 kbps, they sell MP3s, as opposed to iTunes which lets you download AACs in an mp4 wrapper. This, in theory, gives you a higher quality than MP3s do.
    Personally, I don't believe it makes a big enough difference to buy from iTunes, but it's worth considering.

    • xorsyst
      January 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      If you care about quality that much - buy the cd and rip it lossless. Given the general lack of price difference, I always go this route, and then convert it to mp3 for portable listening. I'll be really happy the day amazon or someone starts selling lossless encodings online instead of lossy.

      As for MP3 vs AAC - well, that one's still under much discussion. It does depend dramatically on the settings. But what still amazes me is that Itunes, amazon, etc. are using fixed bit-rate. It's pretty much the worst of both worlds on the quality/size scale - by going variable you can (generally) get superior quality in a smaller download.

      Finally - please can articles like this one stop implying that CDs are analog.

      • Adrian Cozma
        January 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

        I absolutely agree with you, I just stayed on the whole digital idea assuming people are too lazy to buy a CD on their way home or on a week-end. :)

    • Daniel Saner
      March 6, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      I agree. MP3, AAC and such are fine for previews and evaluation, but if I'm paying money for an album, I won't settle for anything below CD quality. There are enough examples of tracks that generate some artifacts even with the best of encoders (i.e. LAME). Maybe many people won't mind, but I think it's a matter of principle, as a paying customer you should get a good quality product. That's before even mentioning that many professional, official encodes are in horrible quality or even corrupt. I've seen reports of music bought at iTunes, Amazon etc. that was simply unlistenable, and a friend of mine showed me how some tracks on an album he bought at Amazon were actually incompletely encoded – they just stopped in the middle of the track (and no, it wasn't a download problem. Even the store page showed too short durations when compared to the CD copy).

      If you want your money's worth you should check out sites like HDTracks or Qobuz, which focus on lossless quality exclusively (although they tend to be a bit more expensive than even iTunes). However, it's getting more and more popular. Since the time this article was written, 7digital has started selling lossless albums as well, and there are rumours that iTunes will start doing the same soon. More specialist stores (Juno Download, Trackitdown, Bleep, Beatport, Bandcamp...) have always offered lossless. At this point, I think if you can't find a lossless copy of a new album for purchase anywhere, it's reason enough to complain to the label about it, and ask them to get with the times.

  21. catherine parke
    January 9, 2013 at 1:36 am

    Interesting Article and well-presented, thanks! It's a shame they are mostly limited in the countries they sell to. I looked at Amazon MP3 but there is a note: "Please note that AmazonMP3.com is currently only available to US customers."

  22. Kieran Colfer
    January 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    One thing about these: once you buy these songs, do you own them outright, or is there some sort of DRM on them? I know Amazon don't have DRM on their songs, but the rest?

    • Joel Lee
      January 9, 2013 at 5:10 am

      Gah, that's one metric I should've considered when writing this article. I don't remember which ones used DRM, though I have a sneaking suspicion that none of them do. DRM is so controversial and it doesn't seem likely that either Amazon or Google would use it, let alone the smaller brands.

      Don't take my word for it, though. Before using a service, you should double-check their stance on DRM!

      • Keith Collyer
        January 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

        eMusic is DRM-free. I use it, but I got in early so I'm on a plan they don't offer now and my money buys me twice as many tracks as you get now ;). There are a lot of name artists that aren't represented. This doesn't bother me as I tend to use it for the more obscure material.

  23. mac patrocks
    January 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Other services are great, but I really miss the iTunes's integrative store.

  24. Trevor Yannayon
    January 6, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I've never been a big fan of iTunes and usually use Amazon MP3 or Google Play, nice to have some other alternatives.

  25. Jonathan Moody
    January 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I love Amazon MP3! I have downloaded several sampler albums, then discovered a couple years later that they have now-big name artists in some cases. I have also gotten several recent albums for just a couple bucks. You don't always get great deals, but sometimes you can get amazing deals.

    • Joel Lee
      January 9, 2013 at 5:09 am

      "You don’t always get great deals, but sometimes you can get amazing deals."

      That seems to be the general case with Amazon. I really like what they're doing. :)

  26. Anonymous
    January 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Anything but iTunes is awesome...

  27. Jim LaFronz
    January 4, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Registration is closed at Panda. I was referred to MP3Eagle.

  28. Alan Wade
    January 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    MP3Panda seems to be linked with MP3Fiesta and MP3Eagle. I dont know if this is a good or bad thing but the question has to be: Why do they need three websites with similar names to sell music?

    • David Yaroshevsky
      January 4, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      yeah, when i tried to sign up for MP3Panda, it sent me over to MP3Eagle (where I discovered that the minimum amount of money you can add to your account is a whopping $30, which is pretty crazy considering I wanted to just download a few $1 albums...)

  29. John Hannibal Swift
    January 4, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Google music is a bit limited in scope - although available in the UK just fine - but the quality of download is much higher. MP3 Panda is actually in Moscow and more than a little dodgy.

  30. Junil Maharjan
    January 4, 2013 at 5:49 am

    This is a great list. have only heard of amazon music and google music. most of these service do not even run in my country. i hope google does something about it soon.

  31. daz hannah
    January 4, 2013 at 2:58 am

    You may want to check out feed back online for mp3panda a lot of unhappy customers out there. Mp3 obsession has it listed as closed, which seems the core of the complaints against it, takes credit then you go back and site is down and then credit disappears, apparently who knows, but where there's smoke.....

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

      That's weird. At the time I wrote this article (a while back), MP3Panda seemed to have generally favorable reviews. Maybe I was suckered in by fake reviewers... Thanks for the heads up.

  32. Alex Dick
    January 4, 2013 at 2:27 am

    amazon and google play are pretty much the same price... yes, they are alternatives, but pricing is practically the same between the 3.

    • Joel Lee
      January 6, 2013 at 8:09 am

      Yeah. I presume they make all their money from having such wide selections and being such recognizable brands, so they don't really need to price cut.

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