99 cents? That's a different story.
So when I saw that Amazon.com's MP3 store was offering the entire album -- not just the single, but all 14 tracks plus the digital booklet -- for under a dollar, I figured it'd be the perfect opportunity to not only get the album, but give Amazon's key iTunes competitor a test run.
Apple's iTunes is of course the 800-pound gorilla in the digital music sales industry. I don't buy music as much as I used to, but when I do, I generally do it through iTunes. Part of that is a matter of convenience -- at this point my entire media library, including music, movies and TV shows is stored in iTunes -- and part of it is a matter of familiarity. I know how the iTunes store works, I'm used to using it, and frankly, I've never had any problems with it.
I figured the Amazon.com MP3 store would work just as well, but I quickly learned I was wrong. First, when you buy a digital song or album from Amazon, you can't just download an MP3 file. The site offers you up a proprietary Amazon-formatted file that opens a "downloader" application, that then downloads your MP3s from Amazon's server. You can bypass the downloader if you choose to have your music sideloaded to Amazon's cloud player, but that still requires a download process, then if you want to load your music into iTunes or your non-Android music player of choice, you still need the downloader application.
Still, that's really more of a "first-time buyer" pain, and now that my expectations of the process have been properly set, I'll be prepared for it next time I use the Amazon.com store. The bigger problem was something specific to today, and something that really could set Amazon.com back in this market share battle.
Putting it as simply as possible, Amazon.com was not prepared for the influx of traffic the specific sale of this Lady Gaga album would create, causing massive server congestion and download times of up to 8 hours for the album. 14 songs, one digital booklet, 121 megabytes of data, eight hours. That's actually WORSE than the download speed that would be expected from a 56K modem.
This was the situation that nearly everyone trying to download the album today encountered, and for many of those people, it was their first experience with the Amazon.com MP3 store. I can't imagine a lot of those people are interested in coming back after their experience today.
On top of that, the Gaga sale was intended to be something of a trojan horse to re-introduce users to Amazon's "Cloud" music player, something that launched with much fanfare back in March, but hasn't taken off the way the company -- or industry pundits -- expected. Today Amazon was offering everyone who bought any album, including "Born This Way" for just 99 cents, a free upgrade from Amazon's 5 GB cloud storage to its 20 GB plan, which normally costs $20 a year. But because of the Gaga-related server issues, the cloud player and uploader weren't exactly functional for much of the day. So that was a wash too.
The fact is, Amazon.com has an incredibly good and competitive set of products with the MP3 store and the cloud player. Their prices on many songs and albums are better than iTunes, and the files are standard MP3 files, which play on just about anything, as opposed to Apple's "Protected" (but now DRM-free) AAC files, which are hit-and-miss on third-party products. But today turned from a showcase for those products into a day-long frustration for customers.
Of course, that wasn't enough for many customers, who took to the reviews section to express their dissatisfaction. As of 10:00 p.m. EDT, there were 358 reviews of the digital version of the album, and 108 of them were 1-star reviews, with the vast majority of those complaining only about the download process and not the music itself. Of course, to offset that, there are now 178 5-star reviews, most of the latest of which ALSO only talk about the download process.
Through all of this, Lady Gaga has yet to say anything, which is interesting for someone who is so invested in her fans and has more Twitter followers than anyone else. Of course, given that her official website has a link to buy the album on iTunes, and not on Amazon.com, and she re-tweeted the official iTunes Store link, maybe that shouldn't be so surprising.