Stream Wars: A New Challenger Appears

Amazon has been rolling out some fresh features lately. I have been taking full advantage of Prime Reading, which unleashes a cornucopia of classic and more modern titles, plus self-help materials, for your unending pleasure. But books are hardly the focus here at *boom* *pow* *fourth wall* The Florida Basement. Recently we’ve seen a far more intriguing development from the Goliath of delivery, one that puts into perspective just how small Amazon can really be, and what they’re doing to change that.

(No word on when I intend to start the Kindle versions of Art Journal Freedom or Artist’s Journal Workshop in a narcissistic attempt to cultivate a style I might one day impart to people on the internet. To prove it to you, I’m also reading The 5 Love Languages entirely out of fear about the future of my love life.)

Amazon’s marketplace suckerpunch comes in the form of lower prices for its current Prime members and Echo owners, clocking in at $7.99 and $3.99 respectively. The author notes the industry standard is $9.99, a nice, round number that packs the dough on each month. Some outlets are already hailing it as “brilliant”, and although I don’t know if I’d go that far, it certainly intrigues as an alternative.

Combining the Echo’s sales — more brisk than the tree outside my window succumbing to the gentle entreaties of autumn — and Prime feeling like a responsible and even generous (far too rare in this age) investment, using both as a platform to eke out more earnings by providing current customers with a streaming service at a lower price is a strong way to attract their own customers back. But this is a streaming service, and that can’t be their only intent.

Amazon mostly integrates their new offerings (or purchases) into their current schema to great effect. Prime Video, Prime Music’s original form, Prime Reading, Twitch, the list is exhaustive. Why not now? This new, decentralized platform attempts to appeal to current Prime users and general musicheads alike. It works as an option to both parties because Amazon knows people paying for music are already paying $9.99 a month or more for it, and this is an opportunity to pay slightly less, or at worst the same price.

But as someone who’s used Amazon Music’s limited catalog and been a Prime subscriber for three years, this feels kind of a like another one of those sack taps they unexpectedly deliver you. Like when you realize your Student membership is up and Amazon hops onto the crippling reality of your ascension to adulthood, or when they tell you they’re really sorry but they have to jack up the rate. I send over $99 for a year of solid swag, with shipping, shows, and free books added to the mix, and to have to pay more for an unlimited music experience seems a little disappointing. A dual Prime-Music Unlimited subscription would almost double their take home from that customer.

I don’t want to call up the doomsday scenario, where the consumer finds themselves going back from the one stop shop of Prime to needing half a dozen other subscriptions or purchases each month to meet their pop culture, educational, and living needs. Just kidding, that’s exactly where this is headed. Seriously, if the decentralized system of Music Unlimited works, what might follow? Video streaming — both television and sites or apps like Twitch or Beam — is becoming just as haphazard, though the effects have been mostly stymied by timely regulatory intervention and a smaller competitive field. For all their good, Amazon didn’t get this far being a company incapable of revamping its business model.

In the meantime, the streaming field has remained relatively similar to my appraisal a month and a half ago: Apple chugs along, Spotify and Soundcloud rumble with the latter’s purchase of a buyout, Google Play and Tidal continue to exist on the periphery. These updates are starting to become a trend.

The battle for streaming is starting to remind me of the Thirty Years’ War, a conflict so mind-bogglingly insane in its content and execution that I’m going to stop the metaphor here because I can’t do it more justice than the Wikipedia page does in trying to explain just how absurd shit can get. Music Unlimited faces an uphill battle, but not an unbeatable one. Like Apple Music’s launch a little over a year ago, they have the clientele and the knowledge to run it well, and quickly.

Whether or not they can effectively curate their collection and connections, and whether those yield exclusive contracts — if that’s their route of choice, and it should be if they really want to take off — remains to be seen.

-Matthew Sandler

@mattusquo

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