Amazon Music is a great utility for those already subscribed to Prime membership
Amazon Music's USP is the Alexa integration and the seamless way one can interact with it
Its success will depend on local content and it seems to have figured that out with Stations and Playlist
Amazon Music, the music streaming platform from the e-commerce giant is now official in India. The introduction of Amazon Music is another attempt by the company to take over your home entertainment following the launch of Echo smart speakers few months back.
Will you be interested in paying for music? This question would have raised eyebrows of our fellow countrymen few years back. However, we have knowingly or unknowingly started paying for music and in fact, we have started streaming music. Almost every major telecom service provider in the country now offers a music streaming platform totally free as part of your subscription. Airtel has one called Wynk Music, Reliance Jio has one called Jio Music and Vodafone offers similar benefit with Vodafone Play. But the music streaming industry is dominated by names such as Times Internet’s Gaana, Saavn, and Apple Music to name a few.
Amazon is only the latest entrant but it also has the most unique proposition of them all. While all of these platforms have to hunt for customer acquisition, Amazon Music already has one in the form of Prime members. So, if you have Prime subscription then you are automatically enrolled to Amazon Music, totally free. While the executives of Seattle-based e-commerce platform argue that Amazon Music is not free, it does seem free if you subscribed to Prime few months back.
The fundamentals are simple: Customers first got Prime membership to enjoy free 1-day shipments then they got subscription to Prime video as an additional benefit. Amazon is making the deal even sweeter by also offering free music streaming as part of the existing Prime subscription. Amazon Music first launched in 2014 and with the India launch, the service is now available in 30 countries.
The launch of Amazon Music in India comes at a time when Spotify filed for IPO and set up its office in India. It also coincides with a new round of funding where Gaana raised around $115 million for expansion. Amazon Music does have some tricks up its sleeve, which could be one of the main reasons to get or switch to the service.
Getting started with Amazon Prime Music
Amazon Music has been in testing in India for the past few weeks, but it needed an Echo smart speaker and worked only via voice query. The service is now available as a standalone app for Android, iOS, Fire TV and even web.
Prime subscribers simply need to download the app and if you already have Amazon Shopping or Prime Video app installed then it will automatically recognize your account and then you need to tap the ‘Get Started’ button.
Once you are signed in, the first page is the language selection page. Amazon Music supports 12 languages – Hindi, English, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujarati and Rajasthani. While most music streaming platforms use language and genre as a filter to show music, Amazon says the language selection here is not a filter.
“Over the past few years, we have identified that most users select 2-3 languages and hence we don’t use language as a filter,” said Sahas Malhotra, Director, Amazon Music India said.
This is key since Amazon wants it’s users to discover new music and not just stay listening to same set of music over time and again. Once the language selection is done, it is basically a grid of tiles varying in dimensions that offer access to music. “Content is the king and we have put content right at the centre,” adds Sahas. Amazon says it has designed the app to be minimalist and ensure there is no friction when users look up for their music.
Localization and discovery of music
Amazon says it has brought the best of its music streaming service in the US to India. The platform offers access to over 10 million songs and Sean McMullan, Director International Expansion at Amazon Music said, “It is way better than earlier when we launched in Australia.”
The success of music streaming cannot be guaranteed in a country like India where a genre itself varies when you move from north to south. According to Census of India of 2011, there are 122 major languages and 1,599 spoken languages, which makes it hard to differentiate and cater to every kind of audience. Amazon says it is precisely the reason why it is not using language as a filter and plans to add more languages as the platform gains some popularity among mainstream users in the country.
With Amazon Music, Amazon is bringing localisation by offering music based on artists, genres, mood and activity. While users search for music by referring to music composers or singers globally, the discovery is driven by names of actors in India. On Amazon Music, apart from seeing Best of Arijit Singh, you will also see Best of Shah Rukh Khan and Best of Karan Johar. Amazon says these playlists are based on initial learning from the limited beta it ran with Echo customers. The deeper signs of localisation can be seen in genres where it differentiates classical music into Carnatic Classical and Hindustani Classical. There is also Rabindra Sangeet, which are songs written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore.
Earlier in the day, Spotify filed its IPO where it confirmed to have 159 million monthly active users and 71 million paid subscribers. The success of Spotify (which is yet to officially launch in India) is mainly driven by the new music its users discover that otherwise wouldn’t been possible. Amazon also wants its Prime Music users to discover new music as they get acquainted with the platform.
And discovery on the platform is driven by the concept called Stations and Amazon says the idea behind stations is to offer a laid back listening experience. Stations again offer music based on artists, genres at start but it will start populating music by user habits. When users play music from a particular station, Amazon presents users with a thumbs up and thumbs down sign that will allow it to understand your listening habits. Sean adds that populating music will rely on both human editors as well as deep learning algorithms.
Voice and Echo as the major differentiator
“Today, more music is streamed via Echo more than mobile and Alexa has become part of life,” Sean McMullan said while explaining the integration of Alexa within Amazon Music. Alexa and voice interaction is the central part of the music experience here and one feature that sets Amazon Music apart from every other major music streaming platform.
With Amazon Music, users can simply say “Alexa, Play Music” to get started with music. It will simply start playing based on preference. It can also play music based on voice queries like “Play Sufi Songs”, “Best of Salman Khan”, “Jazz Music”, “Holi Music” or even “Lullabies Station”. Amazon says Alexa removes the friction of interacting with your music streaming platform and in the limited time of use, I can say it does remove the friction. It is as simple as ‘Play Chris Stapleton” now compared to previous workflow which involves going into the app and then selecting the artist and then playing a particular playlist.
“With voice controls the music listening experience cannot get any simpler, making music listening delightful, effortless and a natural experience for customers. Listening to your favourite music has never been more fun,” said Sahas Malhotra.
Music Quality and Competition
Amazon says it samples all the music in MP3 format and tops at 256Kbps. Amazon Music users have the option to select quality and the platform by default relies on adaptive streaming where the quality is decided based on the network strength. In comparison, Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis and it tops out at 320kbps while Apple Music relies on AAC and streams at 256kbps.
In reality, it is just hard to find difference between these music streams since most of the users stream their music via smartphone and hardware is generally lacking to take full potential of the available audio stream. Amazon executives say they will consider offering lossless audio like Tidal provided there is demand but for now, the company is relying on the most easiest form of digital music distribution. Apart from Apple Music, the real competition for Amazon Music is Gaana and Saavn, which are seen as local players and offer localization that stands apart from other services. Saavn declined to comment on the launch of Amazon Music in India but it has morphed into a podcast player with original programming.
Amazon Music undercuts every other streaming platform with its price. The service comes bundled with Prime Subscription which was initially available at an annual rate of Rs 499 and is currently priced at Rs 999 a year. The service gives access to Prime Video and 1-day free shipping on Amazon India.
An annual subscription of Saavn costs Rs 1,050 while Gaana is a bit cheaper at Rs 1,020. Apple Music costs Rs 100 per month and annual subscription is available at Rs 1,200. There is tremendous value in Amazon Music if you also stream videos on Prime Video and do shop online a lot at Amazon India. As Sahas rightly pointed out, Content is the king and it will eventually water down to whether you manage to find the right kind of music.