Amazon Just Launched a Streaming Music Service. Is It Any Good?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 12 2014 1:01 PM

Amazon's New Music Service Can't Compete With Spotify. But It Doesn't Have To.

Amazon Prime Music streaming service
Amazon's new music service isn't very good—but it's still a nice perk for Prime members.

Image courtesy of Amazon PR

On Thursday, Amazon released Prime Music, its long-rumored streaming music service. For Amazon Prime members, that means about a million songs by a variety of popular and not-so-popular artists are now free to stream anytime from Amazon.com, without commercial interruptions. Prime members can also download the songs onto their mobile devices and play them offline via the Amazon MP3 mobile app, though they can’t do the same on their computers.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

If you already have Amazon Prime, this can only be good news. If you don’t, however, you can ignore it entirely, as I’ll explain.

Advertisement

Prime Music is Amazon’s belated entry into an increasingly crowded field—and it’s a desultory one at that. If you were hoping for a Spotify-killer, you can put that out of your head right now.

The biggest problem is the puny selection. A million songs might sound like a lot, but it’s a small fraction of the number offered by rival services like Spotify, Beats Music, and Rhapsody. That discrepancy makes a world of difference. On Spotify, you can search for just about any song you want to hear, and most of the time you’ll find it. On Amazon, searches are crapshoots, especially since its library is light on new releases by popular artists and doesn’t include artists from Universal Music Group at all. That means no Kanye, no Katy Perry, no Lady Gaga.

Amazon’s service also falls short as a radio player. There are no personalized playlists, a la Pandora or Beats, and its human-curated playlists at this point are nothing to get excited about.

Instead, you’ll have to content yourself with browsing Prime Music’s featured selections, which is almost certainly the least convenient way to use a streaming-music service—especially when it’s so light on new releases. That said, those who already Prime members are unlikely to gripe too much about unlimited, ad-free access to big chunks of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, OutKast, or Prince’s catalogs.

Here’s the thing: Amazon isn’t really competing with Spotify et al. At $99 a year, Prime Music makes no sense as a standalone streaming service. The company’s real goal here is to add a little more value for the Prime members who butter its bread—and, potentially, for buyers of its forthcoming smartphone, who will likely get Amazon MP3 as a native music app.

Remember, Amazon Prime already has some 20 million members, which is twice as many as Spotify. If you’re among them, you may see Prime Music as another reason not to leave. If you aren’t, you might see it as one more enticement to join.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 5:47 PM Tale of Two Fergusons We knew blacks and whites saw Michael Brown’s killing differently. A new poll shows the gulf that divides them is greater than anyone guessed.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 6:23 PM Bryan Cranston Reenacts Baseball’s Best Moments to Promote the Upcoming Postseason
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.