Amazon Looking to “Rapidly Grow” Digital Music Team

1/25/12Follow @curtwoodward

Now that it’s got a very Apple-like system in place—tablet computer paired with digital media—Amazon.com appears to be cranking up the volume on its online music service as well.

The San Francisco office of Amazon’s a2z research and development subsidiary is chock full of job ads for people to work on the Amazon MP3 store and Cloud Player, the e-commerce giant’s challenger to Apple’s long-dominant iTunes music platform. The company says it’s looking to “rapidly grow this team,” and the 21 job ads listed paint a picture of that growth.

Amazon’s looking for a lot of different skills. The company’s got ads for developers and engineers to tackle both the front-end software and mid-level networking systems. It wants designers to help polish the user interface, engineers to specifically take on overseas products, and program managers to oversee things. And, of course, mobile developers with experience in both Android and Apple’s iOS—a system that doesn’t currently have a native Amazon music player application.

Amazon’s MP3 store has been lurking around for several years, but has really picked up steam with the broad adoption of Android-based smartphones, which often have the Amazon store pre-installed. Its Cloud Player, which debuted last year, is bundled with the Amazon MP3 service.

(Trying to become a default music player for Android is another clever way that Amazon is yanking parts of that mobile operating system away from its sugar daddies at Google, which was late to the game with a serious digital music competitor last year. The more prominent example of Amazon’s bigfooting is now the Kindle Fire itself, which runs on an extremely customized version of Android.)

I’m not sure how much people will use the new Kindle Fire to listen to music, but that would fit into CEO Jeff Bezos’ concept of the Fire as “a fully integrated media service.”

That’s a key distinction. While Apple got into the digital music business to drive sales of its hardware devices, Amazon is plainly coming at the tablet and mobile-app markets as ways to just sell more stuff, whether that’s music or e-books or streaming movies or groceries (still in Seattle only!) or tube socks, for that matter. The longer you stay in Amazon’s digital storefront, the more they know about you, and the likelier it is that you’ll buy something from them next time.

iTunes could certainly stand to face a strong competitor here—from a user’s perspective, the software can be very difficult to navigate and sometimes feels like it’s barely been updated in years (just ask one of the whiners on this “I Hate iTunes” Facebook page.) But even with an integrated MP3 store and attached Cloud Player that makes listening easier, Amazon still has a ton of work to do if it hopes to make a dent in Apple’s huge music-selling lead—especially now that Google also is also on the case.

At the moment, Amazon and other runners-up in digital music are still fighting over scraps. Market research firm NPD Group has estimated that Amazon accounts for about 14 percent of the digital song download market, with Apple claiming about 70 percent. From the look of these hiring plans, Amazon is hoping to get serious about changing that balance.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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