NEW YORK — Amazon Prime is indeed adding music to the mix.
On Thursday, after much speculation, the online retailer is launching a streaming service called Prime Music, at no additional cost for Prime members who pay $99 a year. Those members will automatically gain access to more than one million songs, including what Amazon says are tens of thousands of albums from top acts like Justin Timberlake, Pink, Bruno Mars, Blake Shelton, The Lumineers, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna.
Amazon Prime has come a long way for a subscription service that was initially all about two-day free shipping. Through the nine years of Amazon Prime's existence, the company has added streaming movies and TV shows, and a Kindle lending library of more than 500,000 books.
As part of the new no-cost music benefit, Prime members will be able to listen to hundreds of pre-programmed Prime Playlists that are artist-, genre-, mood- or activity-based. Prime Playlists will typically include 20 to 50 tracks and carry names like Feel Good Country, Playdate with Toddlers, The Heaviest Metal and Hip-Hop for Your Commute.
You can create your own playlists with Prime Music tracks, receive personalized recommendations, and download any of the Prime material to mobile devices so that you can listen offline. Customers can rate and review playlists but for now there is no social networking component. Nor is Amazon doing any kind of custom Internet radio service.
Amazon has actually been in the music business in one form or another for 16 years, dating back to its sales of compact discs, the second category of goods available on Amazon following books. Amazon subsequently made digital downloads available and has a cloud locker service. For $24.99 a year, music fans can store up to 250,000 tracks, accessible from any device. You can mix Prime Music with your own digital collection to expand your library.
By unleashing a streaming service, Amazon's vice president for digital music Steve Boom says, "we want to go where our customers are going."
It is already where major competitors have gone. Amazon joins a congested field that is only becoming more so, with names such as Spotify, Pandora, Google, and, of course, Apple, which recently shelled out $3.2 billion for Beats.
Prime Music will be ad-free and device agnostic, meaning you can listen on Android and iOS phones and tablets, Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablets, plus PCs and Macs. Boom says the quality of the stream will be up to 256-kpbs, but the stream can adapt based on your network connection.
But the one million songs being made available for free streaming at launch pale compared to the 25 million available for download or purchase through Amazon's online music store, or the more than 20 million tracks available on Spotify. There had been some prelaunch speculation that Amazon would only make songs older than six months available as part of any service. Amazon says there is no such specific time window restriction, though it is unlikely members will have free access to the freshest material. Moreover, while Sony Music and Warner Music are active participants, there is a major holdout on the content side. Amazon has not struck a deal with Universal Music.
Amazon hopes of course that the addition of Prime Music will draw new customers to Amazon Prime. Simply put, Prime members buy more stuff on Amazon then non-members do. Says Boom: "Ultimately we're creating lifelong relationships with our customers that makes them better customers of Amazon (who) use our services more frequently."
Amazon says that customers with Kindle Fire HD/HDX devices will get Prime Music in an automatic, over-the-air update. Customers with iOS or Android devices can also download the latest Amazon Music app in Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store. Amazon is also letting non-Prime members sample Prime Music free for 30 days.