Amazon today announced a new service that gives customers free MP3 versions of the audio CDs they purchase from Amazon. This unique offering—a key advantage the firm can offer over rivals like Apple, Google, and Microsoft—comes with a very interesting twist: It includes previous CD purchases, too, dating back all the way to 1998.

And people say Apple innovates.

“What would you say if you bought music CDs from a company 15 years ago, and then 15 years later that company licensed the rights from the record companies to give you the MP3 versions of those CDs … and then to top it off, did that for you automatically and for free?” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement. “Well, starting today, it's available to all of our customers – past, present, and future – at no cost. We love these opportunities to do something unexpected for our customers.”

Here’s how Amazon AutoRip works.

New purchases. Whenyou buy what Amazon calls AutoRip CDs—they’re marked with a special blue and green icon in the company’s online store--the MP3 versions of those CDs are automatically added to your Cloud Player library, free of charge, for immediate playback or download. So you don’t need to wait for the CD to arrive to enjoy the music.

Previous purchases. Thosewho previously purchased AutoRip CDs at any time since Amazon first opened its Music Store in 1998 will find MP3 versions of those CDs in their Cloud Player libraries, again automatically and for free. This includes over 50,000 CD albums, including titles from every major record label. And Amazon says more are being added all the time.

Quality. AutoRip music is provided in 256 Kbps MP3 format.

Free storage. Like Amazon MP3 purchases, AutoRip music does not count against the storage limit of your Amazon Cloud Player/Cloud Drive.

I’ve written recently about my use of Amazon Cloud Player, and have in fact written an Amazon Cloud Player mini-book. Checking Cloud Player this morning, I see a ton of previous audio CD purchases in my Cloud Player, including CDs dating back to 1999! (These are generally horrific musical choices, so let’s just skip over that bit.)

This is just amazing, folks. You can learn more about AutoRip on the Amazon web site.