Amazon’s free music-streaming service has launched in the U.S. — but the tech giant is making anything but a big deal out of it. The ad-supported free service quietly became available this week exclusively through Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant programmed into Echo devices, indicating that Amazon is more interested in promoting its own software/hardware ecosystem than being an aggressive competitor to Spotify’s free music tier.
“Since the launch of Amazon Music, customers have been able to use the simplicity and magic of voice to request music in fun, innovative ways,” the company wrote in a blog post Thursday, emphasizing the ties between music and voice discovery. “And so, beginning today, customers in the U.S. who do not yet have a Prime membership or a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited will now be able to listen to an ad-supported selection of top playlists and stations for free with Amazon Music on compatible Alexa-enabled devices.”
When rumors begin swirling a few days ago of an imminent free music tier from Jeff Bezos’s tech juggernaut, many speculated that the crowded music-streaming market was about to see a major new rival, and Spotify’s stock price even dipped as a result. But the modest, Alexa-only launch of the service — which lacks even a branded name of its own — positions it only as a driver of Echo sales and advertising income.
Midia Research analyst Mark Mulligan wrote in a blog post that this type of new product aligns with Amazon’s rising ambitions in the tech ad revenue space. “While Spotify investors were right to get twitchy at the Amazon rumors, it is Facebook investors who should be paying the closest attention,” Mulligan said, pointing to the fact that Amazon has grown its advertising business from $2.9 billion to $10.1 billion in two years. (Facebook brought in $50 billion in 2018.)
MarketWatch analyst Russ Crupnick told Variety that he doesn’t see Amazon’s new free tier “changing anything major” in the music ecosystem. “It will probably have little impact on the established players — Spotify has incredible loyalty with its listeners and I don’t see people marching off to Amazon because it’s going to have a free tier,” Crupnick said. “Amazon has a much more casual audience — it’s large, but they spend much fewer hours [on the platform] and are generally less engaged with music.”
Outside of the new Alexa-only free service, Amazon offers premium, ad-free music via both Amazon Music, which is included as part of $119-a-year Prime membership and offers 2 million songs, and Amazon Music Unlimited, which costs $7.99 a month and offers 50 million songs.