$1 Per Song? No Way! 5 Cheaper Alternatives For The iTunes Store

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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

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34 Comments - Write a Comment

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Alex Dick

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

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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daz hannah

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

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.

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Junil Maharjan

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.

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John Hannibal Swift

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.

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Alan Wade

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

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…)

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Jim LaFronz

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

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Anonymous

Anything but iTunes is awesome…

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Jonathan Moody

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

“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. :)

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Trevor Yannayon

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

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mac patrocks

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

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Kieran Colfer

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

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

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.

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catherine parke

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.”

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Adrian

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

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

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. :)

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That dude

Or torrent =P

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John Bean

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John Bean

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.

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Gene Loeb

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.

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Youni

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.

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Steve Aves

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.

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Alex Pope

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

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Alexandra

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

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Alexandra

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

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Alexandra

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

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Leifer

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.

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Dweller

How about Bandcamp and Media Club…

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

http://bandcamp.com/

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Zak D.

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.

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