After months of speculation, and just ahead of the unveiling of what will likely be the company’s first smartphone, Amazon on Thursday threw its hat into the streaming music game with the launch of Prime Music. The service offers members of the company’s Amazon Prime program unlimited ad-free music streaming from a catalog of over 1 million songs.
The format that Amazon has chosen for Prime Music is similar to that of Spotify and Apple’s recently acquired Beats Music, giving listeners on demand access to specific tracks and albums, in addition to curated channels. This contrasts with services like Pandora and iTunes Radio, which offer only radio-like stations with no user control over which tracks are played and when.
Prime subscribers can access the new streaming service via any modern Web browser or the recently re-branded Amazon Music apps (formerly called Amazon Cloud Player) on a variety of mobile services. Of note, Amazon has taken a unique approach to how listeners access Prime Music-eligible tracks. While songs can be played in full directly from the Amazon Music mobile apps, those browsing the catalog from the Web must add desired albums and tracks to their existing Amazon Library. Selecting tracks to play in the Web interface only plays the usual 30-second sample, but clicking “Add to Library” puts the track or album alongside a customer’s existing Amazon music library. Depending on how a user wants to manage their music, this feature will be either convenient or frustrating.
As part of the Amazon Prime program, pricing for the service is compelling. Despite raising the annual price for Prime to $99 back in March, a Prime membership still gives users access to unlimited free two-day shipping on physical items purchased via Amazon, unlimited access to a Netflix-like streaming video library, free access to about 500,000 Kindle eBooks, and now on-demand music streaming of 1 million songs, all for what works out to about $8.25 per month. This compares to Beats Music at $10 per month ($120 per year) and Spotify Premium at $10 per month.
There’s one big catch, however. To save on royalty costs and keep the service affordable, Amazon’s Prime Music lacks any songs released in the past six months. These newer tracks, which command higher royalties, are usually available on competing services.
But for those who don’t care about the absolute latest music, or those looking to save some money, Amazon Prime Music should be a compelling option to both attract new customers and keep existing Prime members from defecting. Those without Prime memberships can check it out now via a free 30-day trial.