Buy a CD today, and what are you going to do? Rip it to MP3 or AAC right away, of course, so you can play it from your computer, phone, or tablet. I’m sure plenty of people still have physical CD players, but I found it difficult to continue with the disc-swapping once I became accustomed to the ease of choosing music from a large digital library. That’s much of the allure of buying music from the iTunes Store or the Amazon MP3 Store, since there’s no need to go through the effort of ripping the CD in the first place, nor do you have to find space for it on a shelf or in a box.
But don’t count CDs out entirely. They’re far more satisfying to wrap and toss under a Christmas tree than iTunes gift cards, they’re a built-in backup (less of a concern now that both Apple and Amazon let you redownload purchased music), and they can make for interesting artifacts, thanks to the album art and liner notes. And I’m sure that there are plenty of people who just prefer a solid bit of plastic to the ephemeral digital download.
Amazon has just announced a new service, called AutoRip, that aims to let those who want to buy CDs get the best of both worlds. If a CD purchased from Amazon is among the 50,000 albums that are eligible for the service, when you buy it, you’ll automatically receive MP3 versions of the songs for immediate download. No ripping necessary. (The AutoRip logo appears under the Add to Cart button for eligible albums.)
The AutoRip MP3s appear in Amazon Cloud Player, a Web app that stores and plays music purchased from the Amazon MP3 Store along with music you’ve uploaded (see “Amazon Puts Your Music in the Cloud,” 2 April 2011). You can also play stored music using apps for iOS, Android, Sonos, and Roku.
Taking advantage of AutoRip is merely a matter of buying a CD that’s included in the program, but Amazon has sweetened the deal by including CDs purchased as far back as 1998. So, if you log in to the Cloud Player site, it will tell you if it’s giving you music from previously purchased CDs, and it marks them with a special blue-green icon. I have no idea how many CDs I’ve purchased from Amazon since 1998, but only four showed up in Cloud Player for me.
Before you ask, no, CDs purchased as gifts are not eligible for AutoRip, since then two people would be getting the music. Of course, Amazon has no way of knowing that you’re purchasing a CD as a gift unless you pick the CD from someone’s wishlist or indicate during the checkout process that it’s a gift. Also pay attention to the terms surrounding returns; if you return a CD after downloading the MP3s, you’ll be charged for them, but if you return it without having downloaded the MP3s, they’ll disappear from your Cloud Player library and you won’t be charged.
How does AutoRip compare with Apple’s $24.99 per year iTunes Match service? Only peripherally. Both services give you high quality, DRM-free digital copies of music, but iTunes Match works with all your existing ripped music and AutoRip works only with music from CDs purchased from Amazon, and only a subset of those. But AutoRip is free, so if you like getting physical CDs, it’s another reason to purchase from Amazon rather than some other retailer, which I’m sure is precisely the point.