Today Amazon launched their Amazon Prime Music service as an extension to their $99 per year Prime offering that also includes two-day shipping, streaming videos and access to the Kindle Lending Library. With the launch of Prime Music Amazon wades into a crowded field of streaming music competitors including Pandora, Spotify, Apple’s iTunes Radio, Google Play Music and Beats Music (which is now owned by Apple). While the approach to and selection of streaming music differs between all of the above services there’s no denying that music lovers have a nice variety of options to choose from.
This rush into legal streaming of music is amazing considering that not so long ago (less than a decade) the prospect of ubiquitous streaming music seemed sketchy at best. At least for a while the music industry was hell bent on protecting sales of CDs by ignoring the growing demand for digital music. To give credit where credit is due I think that Apple cracked the armor of the music industry’s battle against digital with the launch and subsequent success of iTunes. (There’s also no doubt that Napster paved the way for iTunes.) While iTunes made digital music sales viable I believe that Pandora had the same effect on streaming music services. When Pandora first launched it was a computer based service but the service adapted with the technology of the times and made the move to mobile devices and just about all the smart TV platforms.
Besides music industry acceptance issues streaming music faced barriers related to bandwidth speed limitations and overall caps on data usage. That meant in order for streaming to be of any use at all a user had to be connected to a wifi network. Not so today. Mobile data plans have become more generous in terms of bandwidth and available data so a person can realistically walk around with their smartphone (or tablet) and listen to music in almost any place they go. I think that’s one reason why in the last year big tech companies (Apple, Google and now Amazon) have piled in to the streaming space. Now that all the big players are here (and then some) the question is, what’s next?
So far the biggest shortcoming of all of the above services has to do with music selection, which is a function of the licensing structures negotiated with the record labels. Regardless of how far things have come the labels still worry about eroding music sales, and along with that eroding margins. Given that situation it’s clear to me that there will be continuing battles over royalties for access to a given label’s library of tracks, with newer tracks being much more valuable than older tracks. Ah, but it’s the new tracks that really please the ears of the younger generation of music listeners. Unfortunately the cost to license the newer hits pushes the cost to run streaming music services into territories that many customers won’t pay for.
The other thing to remember about streaming music is that, much like we see with certain movies on Netflix, the content that you love may be here today and gone tomorrow. Because sometimes licensing deals end or are renegotiated in such a way that access to certain music is lost. So the only way to ensure that you’ll always be able to hear certain songs is to actually buy the music. Luckily there are now plenty of places online where you can do that. That issue aside we’re living in a great time to be a music fan. If you have a smartphone, tablet or computer nearby you have a myriad of options to listen to music you like at a price that you can afford. A decade ago there were many people who thought that such ubiquitousness of streaming music would never be possible.