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Top 6 Online Music Stores

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The range of MP3 music download services available these days is impressive, especially because a few years ago the choices were so limited. The success of the iPod/iTunes broke open this market, but other competitors have flooded in. And, with AmazonMP3 and Spotifty, iTunes has real competitors that can give it a run for its money. The original is still the best - for now - but it Amazon is pressing Apple in the world of online music sales - and Spotify has the chance to change everything about how we use music. For now, here are the top 5 music download services that work with the iPod.

Last updated: Dec. 13, 2011

1. iTunes Store

iTunes logo
image copyright Apple Inc.

The original is still the best. The iTunes Store has the largest selection of music, continues to add cool new features like iTunes Movie Rentals and iTunes LP, and the integration of the store with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad is unparalleled. Despite appealing offerings elsewhere (especially Spotify, which may pressure iTunes as it becomes more established in the U.S.), clicking the iTunes Store link in iTunes is most people's first move when they want to download new music, TV shows, movies, or podcasts.

2. Spotify

spotify for iphone
image copyright Spotify Ltd.

Spotify is radical twist on the online music store. Instead of paying per song and downloading it, you pay a flat monthly subscription price and get access to, with some accounts, unlimited music. While you don't own the music, you can play it even when your computer or mobile device is offline with a Premium account. Spotify is still beaten by iTunes--for now--because iTunes offers a broader range of content; not just music, but also video, podcasts, and books. But if you spend a lot at iTunes each month, you may want to give Spotify a look and see if you can save some money.

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3. AmazonMP3

amazonmp3
image copyright Amazon.com

AmazonMP3 is perhaps the only MP3 download store (as opposed to subscription) service that gives iTunes a real challenge. Though it doesn't have the same super-smooth iTunes/iPod integration (though its download manager is very good for this), Amazon's store boasts more tracks than any other store, great prices, and regular sales. Its CloudPlayer allows users to store any Amazon music purchases online and listen to them anywhere they have a web connection, which is a bonus, though its movie rental and purchase options aren't iOS compatible. If Amazon can find a way to break the "music-mean-iTunes" belief that people have, it could take the crown away from Apple.

4. Google Music

Google Music
image copyright Google Inc.
Google's competitor to iTunes and Amazon MP3 has some appealing features to recommend it--especially it's tight integration with Google's cloud music player and its Android operating system. Unfortunately, it's also rough around the edges and downright clumsy in some places. For instance, buying a single song requires 3-4 clicks. Want to buy 5 individual songs? Expect 15-20 clicks, 5 separate credit card charges, and possibly some download errors. It's a store with a lot of potential, but much of that potential is unrealized right now.

5. eMusic

eMusic logo
image coypright eMusic

I've long had affection for this scrappy indie--but eMusic is becoming less indie, and less endearing. EMusic has been offering MP3 downloaded for a long time (I first subscribed in 2000 or so) and offers DRM-free music at good prices. While eMusic used to only offer indie labels, it has recently added a tremendous amount of major label music. In doing so, though, it changed its subscription model, reduced the amount of music each month many subscribers get, and alienated some longtime subscribers and caused some important indie labels to leave the service. EMusic doesn't offer video or podcasts (though they have audiobooks). With the launch of Spotify, which offer more music for less money, eMusic is beginning to look less appealing.

6. Napster

the Napster logo
image copyright Napster

Napster was once the darling of the digital, free-music revolution. Times sure have changed. After a groundbreaking lawsuit and two sales of the company, it's a subscription-based streaming service that also offers users the ability to purchase MP3s at a discount. While the streaming prices are attractive (less than $10/month for some plans), having to pay extra to own the songs you're listening to is a strike against any service in my book.

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