It seems kind of silly beyond a certain point to call Amazon's launching of an MP3 store news, but with about 2 million audio tracks available for 99 cents or less and reduced-price album downloads it's at least significant that major content vendors are beginning to offer what consumers have been creating themselves for years. The delay in both music publishers and content distributors accepting that cross-platform, DRM-free music distribution via the common MP3 file format was already the de facto standard of the music industry from a consumer's perspective has to be one of the most monumental strategic blunders in publishing history. After years of struggling against MP3s with lawsuits, DRM schemes and other ineffective techniques to persuade the marketplace otherwise it took Apple's proprietary lock on music distribution via its own DRM scheme to awaken at least some music publishers to the need to let consumers be customers and not just licensees.
The real enemy of the music industry is not music copying but consumer attention. With social media, games, mobile devices and online video capturing more of the music industry market's attention span it no longer pays to limit the ability of consumers to move their basic content to where it's valued the most. MP3s enable music and other audio to move quickly and efficiently into to social contexts that are most likely to create consumer enthusiasm for a product quickly when it first gains attention and popularity and enables "long tail" content to get the exposure that it needs to allow consumers to get enthusiasm that will lead to purchases. Amazon's recommendation system is ideal for such purchasers, enabling content that would otherwise be obscure to become immediately relevant to a browser turned on to an artist that they had not known previously. From that point on out it's up to music producers to become more intelligent about how they merchandise the talents and following of an artist to maximize revenues, but singles sales are a great starting point.
With Microsoft and others investigating audio watermarking capabilities it won't be too long before the ability to distribute audio content without DRM and with appropriate audit trails for copyright abuse becomes the industry standard across the board - a factor which should enable music companies to begin to take full advantage of the Web's radio-like ability to broadcast enthusiasm for artists effectively. As to whether the leaders in music publishing will remain the ususal suspects remains to be seen, but by adopting MP3s as a default distribution medium for radio-quality audio they stand a chance on reinventing themselves in time for the next generation of music lovers.