By David Pierce
Amazon is expanding its music offering, opening up its full catalog of 100 million songs in Amazon Music to Prime subscribers at no extra charge. The company is also offering many of its in-house podcasts and a selection of others, ad-free, in the app. You’ll still need a separate subscription if you want Amazon Music to really rival Spotify and Apple Music, but Amazon’s service is becoming a seriously compelling (sort of) free option.
The difference in tiers is all about access. All Prime members will be able to access the entire Amazon Music catalog, but not fully on demand; you can shuffle any artist, album, or playlist, Amazon says, but you can’t just select a song and hit play. For that — and to play songs in higher fidelity or with spatial audio — you’ll need a $9 monthly subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited. (A few playlists will be available on demand and for offline listening to non-upgraders, Amazon says, but it’s not clear which ones.) As free services go, though, Amazon Music is now essentially Spotify minus the ads for anyone already paying for Prime.
Getting rid of ads seems to have been a focus for Amazon: it’s also making a bunch of its podcasts available ad-free to Prime subscribers, including those from Wondery, the podcast studio Amazon acquired in 2020. Other shows from NPR, CNN, ESPN, and The New York Times will be available ad-free as well. “When we talk to consumers, what do they want?” Amazon’s VP of Amazon Music, Steve Boom, said to The Verge’s Nilay Patel on the Decoder podcast. “The biggest thing they don’t like about podcasts is all the ads, not surprisingly. So we focused on building a great catalog of stuff that people like to listen to and making that stuff free.”
Amazon is also working on podcast discovery. It’s rolling out a new feature called Podcast Previews, which seems to be something like trailers for podcast episodes. You’ll be able to listen to “a short, digestible soundbite” before deciding to dive into an episode, which Amazon thinks could help discovery. It’s a limited feature with just a few podcasts for now, but Amazon says it’s a personalized and “swipeable” experience based on what you listen to. So, Tinder for podcasts.
Podcast Previews, if they work, could be a big step toward better discovery. They would also give Amazon a rare thing in the podcast world: a reason to use one app over another. Companies are beginning to figure out that exclusive shows aren’t always the ticket to success, and so Amazon has opted instead to sign deals to get shows early and run them without ads. Those, plus better discovery tools, could actually begin to make some users shift their podcast listening.
As ever with Amazon, everything boils down to Prime subscriptions
As ever with Amazon, much of what it launches is meant to convince more people to pony up $139 a year for a Prime membership. Boom says he sees Amazon Music’s free tier as for “maybe more casual music listeners,” those who are not likely to ever spend $120 a year on a music service — though if they decide to upgrade, Amazon will happily take their money for Music Unlimited. It’s the same reason Amazon paid big money for Thursday Night Football and MGM: it wants more people in the ecosystem, and unmissable content is the best way to get them.
Amazon has also long seen music as a gateway to other things. You can already buy artists’ merch right from the Amazon Music app, many are starting to do live concerts through Twitch, and Amazon is also growing fast as an advertising giant, all of which stand to gain from the huge numbers of fans who will listen to their favorite artists any way they can. Even in podcasts, few companies are better equipped to sell ads and then sell the mattresses from those ads.
Amazon Music is, by most measures, the third-largest player in the music streaming market, behind Spotify and Apple Music. That market is only going to get tougher as YouTube Music continues to grow and with TikTok reportedly getting ready to launch a music service of its own. But Amazon is clearly all-in on audio in general, as it continues to push into podcasting and even live audio with Amp. Lots of companies want into this space, but few are doing it as widely and aggressively as Amazon.
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