SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon.com Inc. took another step toward improving its position in the digital-music market Thursday, launching a new service that will give customers free digital versions of CDs they purchase from the online megaretailer.
Amazon said that the new, free service called AutoRip will initially feature more than 50,000 albums.
In addition, any album purchased from Amazon since 1998 and is covered under AutoRip will be included.
When a customer buys a CD that is part of AutoRip, a digital file of the album will be added to his or her Amazon Cloud Player library.
The digital version can then be played on a computer, tablet or smartphone using the Amazon Cloud Player app, as well as downloaded to those devices.
Steve Boom, Amazon’s vice president of digital music, said the addition of AutoRip “adds value to owning music, which obviously benefits everyone in the music industry, including record labels and artists.”
Among the titles available with AutoRip are Adele’s 2011 blockbuster “21,” Maroon 5’s latest album “Overexposed” and Pink Floyd’s classic “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“This is an innovative move, and at the moment sets them apart from other music services,” said Tim Bajarin, president of technology-research firm Creative Strategies, about AutoRip. “It will be watched closely by Amazon’s competitors.”
The biggest of those rivals, Apple Inc., offers more than 26 million songs for sale on its iTunes store. Officials from Apple didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Amazon’s AutoRip service.
Amazon said it currently offers more than 21 million songs for sale on its MP3 store.
The main difference between Amazon’s and Apple’s offerings is that Amazon sells physical CDs, while Apple sells only the digital files of albums and songs.
The growth of digital music has changed the overall music market, with digital-sales growth outstripping that of CDs.
Figures from Nielsen SoundScan showed that in 2012, total music units sold in the United States rose 3.1 percent from 2011, to 1.66 billion units. Of that number, digital-album sales climbed by 14.1 percent to 118 million albums. CD sales fell by 13.5 percent, but still surpassed the amount of digital albums sold with 193 million units.
Bundling physical media with digital copies is not new in the entertainment business. Content providers such as Walt Disney Co. have found it lucrative to include digital downloads of their movies along with purchases of so-called “combo packs” of videos, which often include Blu-ray and DVDs of their movies.
But the Amazon AutoRip service is seen as the first time a major retailer, online or otherwise, is offering free access to digital versions of purchased physical media. With the success of its Kindle e-book readers and tablets, Amazon could be on the path to offering a similar AutoRip-type service for other types of media.
“I don’t know that it says much about Amazon’s position in the (music) industry,” said Kerry Rice, an analyst with Needham & Co. “I would speculate that if this offering were successful, Amazon could expand it into other categories such as videos and books.”
Amazon’s Boom didn’t say if the company had further plans for its AutoRip service beyond music.