Amazon ( AMZN) may be giving a sneak peek at its plans for digital media. The largest e-tailer has what appears to be a test page for a video download service on its Web site. The service, called
Lumiere , is named after the early cinema pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumiere. It lists film download prices ranging from $7.36 for Swordfish to $13.76 for Syriana. Episodes for television shows such as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are priced at $1.99, matching Apple's ( APPL) iTunes site. There have been media reports for months saying that Seattle-based Amazon plans to take on Apple's hugely popular site. Earlier, there was speculation that Amazon would also offer music downloads, but Lumiere only features video. A company spokesman declined to comment on the Lumiere page, which had been previously reported by the blog Hacking Netflix . "I have no way of knowing the authenticity of that image,'' says Sean Sundwall, a spokesman for Seattle-based Amazon, in an email. "As far as the rumored video service, we don't comment on speculation or rumor.'' Amazon has set up a recruiting Web site for its Digital Media Technology Group that seeks people to "define Amazon's growth in new digital businesses across books, magazines, music, video and other categories.'' Digital media is one of the few potential bright spots for Amazon, whose shares have tumbled 39% this year amid concerns about rising costs and increased competition. It also seems more sensible than other recent Amazon moves, such as its decision to enter the low-margin grocery business. Amazon already is one of the largest sellers of DVDs and owns IMDB , a popular site for film information.
Amazon is entering a crowded market. Apple has been offering episodes of television series since last year. Plus, services such as Movielink and CinemaNow have only attracted a limited following. These services can only offer a scant selection because of the studios' existing distribution agreements. Plus, consumers continue to prefer watching movies at home on their televisions. "Consumers aren't running out to download movies,'' says Mike Kaltschnee, the editor of Hacking Netflix, which is independent of Netflix ( NFLX). Nonetheless, he expects Amazon to do well at the business because the market is going to develop. "When you are searching for a movie on IMDB and you find something you like, you don't want to wait two or three days for it to show up,'' he says.