Banshee's Amazon MP3 store support hits a snag MP3 store integration has finally made its way into a Linux music player. But all is not rosy on the Banshee frontier. Read Jack Wallen's take on a possible move by Canonical that could harm this victory for the Linux desktop.

"I must have been asleep for days..." because out of nowhere the Banshee music player allows you to shop and purchase music downloads from the Amazon MP3 store. You might be thinking, "Ah, big deal", but you might want to rethink that. Let's look at it this way:

What other music player allows you to purchase music from two major distribution sites as well as connect to, Internet archives, and miro? None that I know of. This makes the recent migration from Rhythmbox to Banshee (for the Ubuntu distribution) an understandable choice.

Since the Ubuntu One Music Store was integrated into Rhythmbox, I have been using that tool for all of my music purchases. It's been seamless, but not perfect. For example: There are times when music synchronization was quite slow. There was one occasion where  not all of the tracks from an album downloaded. Those problems have all been resolved as of today. The file syncing is much faster and my missing tracks magically appeared one day. But there is one thing that Ubuntu One does not have that Amazon does - the massive amounts of recordings. Yes Ubuntu One does have a wide variety of selections to choose from. The average user would be happy with what they have to offer. But for people with more eclectic (or wide-ranging tastes), very few can beat the selection offered by Amazon. And of course Amazon does do a better job with their categories (Ubuntu One is missing the Soundtrack category - how did that get by the designers at 7Digital?).

Amazon also has a few other tricks up its sleeve that Ubuntu One does not:

  • Free music giveaways.
  • Aggressive pricing.
  • Major marketing.
  • The Amazon brand.

This is all great news. But all is not perfectly rosy. Yes, Banshee has become the default music player in Ubuntu (which will be seen in release 11.04). But Canonical looks to be making a grab for the cash with this venture. From all Amazon sales, Canonical stated they wanted 75% of all revenue generated by the built-in connection to the Amazon MP3 store. This revenue was already being donated (from Banshee) to the GNOME Foundation. Although it's not a ton of money (just over $3,000 dollars was raised as of February 2011), from the perspective of the open source community, it's the principle that really matters.

Ubuntu seems to be making this cash grab out of fear that Amazon integration will cut into the Ubuntu One revenue - and with good reason. People are familiar with Amazon. Not so much Ubuntu One. If average users are given the choice between an integration with Amazon or Ubuntu One - they are going to choose Amazon. Not so average users will either go with what's cheapest, available, or lead with their conscience. As for myself...I will most likely start with Ubuntu One and, if I "still haven't found what I'm looking for" I'll move over to Amazon (who will most likely have what I want).

It's a shame that this development is making Canonical look bad. Few have done for Linux what Canonical has done. But recent decisions have started to work on the collective nerves of the Linux community. When Ubuntu 11.04 is released, it will be an interesting time. But what will come of this development? Will Ubuntu disable the Amazon support in Banshee (which can easily be re-enabled by users) or will they forget the ridiculous 75% figure and be a bit more reasonable? Only the next few months will reveal this master plan. In the meantime, I am going to continue doing my happy dance now that I no longer have to install that horrible Amazon MP3 downloader in order to purchase music from one of the largest retailers in the world.

"All this machinery making modern music" can only be a good sign for the Linux operating system. The more features and integration like this we have the better. But Canonical should probably rethink their stance on the 75% before they lose that integration altogether. If given the choice, users would likely go to it's in Canonical's best interest to play nicely.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


A couple of things should be clarified here. It's complicated, but if you parse it all cleanly and correctly, it certainly appears (at least to me) that Canonical is being more than fair. 1) As CassidyJames documents, Canonical ISN'T getting a cut. They didn't force the referral-fee-sharing approach on Banshee, and Banshee opted out. The net effect is that the Ubuntu-integrated Banshee favors Canonical's own music store as the default, but still permits Amazon use for any user that wants it - and for those users, every single cent of every single referral fee for every single Amazon purchase through Banshee for every single Ubuntu user will go to GNOME. 2) We're talking about REFERRAL fees here ... Canonical was NOT asking for a portion of the sale price of everything bought, they were asking to be included in the reward for having "referred" the user to Amazon. So comparisons to the recent Apple 30% revenue-sharing agreement are incorrect. You can draw your own conclusion about which organization truly provides the more important contribution in that regard. I think Canonical is right in that regard. 3) Every single referral fee that goes to GNOME as a result of Banshee usage on Ubuntu is gravy, in addition to what GNOME would have already received as a result of Banshee usage on other platforms and in other Linux distros. In fact, at the end of the day, it's quite possible that the Banshee team's decision will end up losing potential revenue for GNOME (again, not that that makes it wrong, their decision). 4) The original Banshee client continues to be available, and can be installed and used on Ubuntu, and has the Amazon plugin enabled by default (and doesn't have the Ubuntu One plugin, iirc). Those are facts. Now I'll give you my opinion, fwiw - I firmly believe in Open Source, but to say that every business that uses open source needs to explicitly undercut their own business model/strategy any time there's any chance to benefit any group involved in open source goes too far. Canonical shouldn't be required to promote Amazon music sales on an even basis with their own music store's, based on a perceived open source ideal. I think if they actively prevented people from buying from Amazon, it would be going too far (limiting freedom). But to say they're being unfair any time they promote their own solution ahead of another goes too far. And for those who point to Novell as somehow "cleaner" in this regard, keep in mind that Novell doesn't have a competing music-sales solution. If they did, I don't think they would have hesitated to demand a revenue-cut for Amazon referrals resulting from Banshee on SuSE - and there might very well have been a more fundamental effect on Banshee development.


From Gabriel Burt (a Banshee developer)'s blog... ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Banshee Supporting GNOME on Ubuntu Background: The Banshee maintainers and community have been proud to support GNOME by sending 100% of our FOSS Amazon MP3 store's affiliate revenue to the Foundation. We're already on pace to contribute at the same level as a small company on the Advisory Board, $10,000 USD per year, and revenue is increasing every month. Canonical's Proposals: After choosing Banshee as the next default player in Ubuntu, Canonical approached us, concerned with how our Amazon store would affect their Ubuntu One store. They proposed two options: Canonical disables the Amazon store by default (you could enable it in a few easy steps) but leaves the affiliate code alone (100% still to GNOME), or Canonical leaves the Amazon store enabled, but changes the affiliate code and takes a 75% cut. Our Response We are pleased that Canonical is willing to leave the affiliate code unaltered. As maintainers of the Banshee project, we have opted unanimously to decline Canonical's revenue sharing proposal, so that our users who choose the Amazon store will continue supporting GNOME to the fullest extent. The GNOME Foundation's Board of Directors supports this decision. The Banshee Maintainer Team Aaron Bockover, Alexander Kojevnikov, Bertrand Lorentz, Gabriel Burt ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So they gave them options that made sense. The Banshee team has chosen to disable the Amazon plugin by default so: it's not confusing to users (by having two different stores), Canonical gets its cut which helps support the awesome services they provide, and users can still enable the Amazon store which fully supports GNOME. This sounds like the best outcome to me.


Buy as close to the performer as possible. You enjoy their music, so make the effort. Buy DRM free and demand DRM free. If more of my money goes to the musicians songwriters and singers they can make more from the effort. Sorry but I'd rather not pay for all that "Distribution Channel".

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