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Amazon's Sort-of Free and Not Very Big Subscription Music Service Is Finally Here

It's like Spotify or Beats, minus a lot of music. But it's free for Amazon Prime members, and that may be enough.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The Amazon music service you’ve been hearing about for many months is live. If you’re in a rush, here’s what you need to know:

  • It’s free for Amazon Prime members.
  • It’s just like Spotify and other subscription services, but with much less music.

Because many of the details of Prime Music have been previously reported (BuzzFeed already noted that the service won’t have songs from major labels until they’ve been out for six months; the New York Times and the New York Post have already noted that the service won’t include anything at all from Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music label) there isn’t a lot more to say.

So let’s engage in a bit of speculation instead: Why would Amazon come out with a digital music service that’s just like lots of other services, but not as good?

The most obvious conclusion is that Amazon doesn’t think its Amazon Prime members, who are already paying between $79 and $99 for the shipping service, will compare Prime Music to other subscription music services, because those services don’t have many subscribers.

As Beats Music’s Jimmy Iovine said last month at the Code Conference, his competitors at Spotify, the world’s biggest subscription service, only has 10 million subscribers worldwide. Pandora’s free service, by comparison, has 77 million users in the U.S. alone — and it’s worth noting that Amazon’s promotional material takes a few cracks, obliquely, at Pandora.

Amazon apparently figures that some free music — which users can download and play on any device, without ads — is better than none. After all, it seemed to use that logic with its Prime Instant Video service when that launched a few years ago, featuring an unimpressive catalog of TV shows and movies. Now it’s waging a spirited battle against Netflix, and pulling in exclusives like a $300 million deal for HBO’s old shows.

And if you want to stretch a bit, you can imagine that Prime Music might get more interesting next week, when Amazon is expected to show off its own phone and/or phone service.

One possible scenario is that Amazon allows its phone users to listen to tracks from Prime Music without racking up any data fees. But that’s not a very exciting scenario, because data fees aren’t really an issue for subscription music fans. Unless you’re listening to a lot of music, at very high bitrates, songs just don’t use much bandwidth.

So who knows? Maybe Jeff Bezos will turn this ho-hum news into something else next week.

This article originally appeared on

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