Amazon Prime Music: OK so far, but leaves listeners underwhelmed

Amazon launched Prime Music streaming service on Thursday. It is free in terms of cost and ads for Prime subscribers, but it is unclear if it can compete with other streaming services, write Marcy Bonebright.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
An Amazon.com package awaits delivery from UPS in Palo Alto, Calif. in 2010.

Amazon launched its very own Prime Music streaming service on Thursday, touting it as yet another benefit of being an Amazon Prime member. The service is free (and ad-free) for Prime subscribers, who already pay the megasite $99 per year. But it remains to be seen whether the addition of "free" music streaming will make Prime membership more attractive, especially when other streaming services seem to offer a better user experience.

No (personalized) streaming in the library

We tried out Prime Music, and came away somewhat underwhelmed. The streaming service isn't a new app; rather, it's integrated into updated versions of the Amazon Music applications for desktop, Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire devices. As such, the UI is fairly un-sexy to look at, especially when compared to the interfaces for dedicated streaming services such as Pandora, Beats Music, or Spotify.

Getting started is a headache unto itself. Given the fact that Prime Music is linked to my Amazon Prime account, and Amazon's suggestion algorithms dominate their industry, I was kind of shocked that Prime Music didn't immediately "know" my musical tastes. While Amazon's digital music store always has plenty of suggestions for me to purchase, the playlists offered up in Prime Music were decidedly generic. Disappointing, but this could be launch day glitching.

Once you've chosen a playlist, song, or album, you can't just hit play. You have to click a button labeled "add playlist to library," then open your library in the Amazon Music app, and then you can stream the music. It's an odd set of steps that will feel familiar to Prime members who are used to borrowing books from the Kindle Lending Library or renting movies through Prime Instant Video. Still, the experience is hardly organic.

Another non-shipping prime perk

Amazon's press release for Prime Music describes the service as yet another benefit of being a Prime member. It seems the company has been scrambling to add as many perks as possible to Prime this year, ever since Amazon decided to increase the cost of membership. But one wonders whether Amazon actually expects Prime Music to compete with other streaming services. Spotify and Beats Music both boast music catalogues of more than 20 million songs, as opposed to Amazon's paltry 1 million.

For its part, Amazon doesn't seem to be worried about the gap. "A lot of these services have more music than people will ever listen to," said Steve Boom, Amazon's vice president of worldwide digital music, according to CNET. "People are paying for a lot of music they're never going to listen to."

It's worth mentioning that Prime Music costs about the same as some of the most expensive no-ad streaming services when you take the Prime membership into account. At $99 per year, it's comparable to Beats Music (which is $99.99 per year), or Spotify Premium ($119.88 per year). It's considerably more expensive than Pandora One, which is just $59.88 per year. However, you're obviously getting more than just music with Prime, as that membership also includes 2-day shipping, video streaming, and eBook rental. As such, adding a music streaming service to Prime's already lengthy list of perks is a decision that probably won't hurt Amazon, though it remains to be seen whether Prime Music will help attract new subscribers.

Marcy Bonebright is a features writer for DealNews.com, where this article first appeared: http://dealnews.com/features/Amazon-Prime-Music-is-Just-Okay/1075554.html

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