Prime-tier upgrade also includes ad-free podcasts from Wondery, New York Times, and CNN.
Amazon.com Inc. strengthens its music and podcast streaming offerings for its Prime subscribers and expands access to 100 million songs from 2 million previously. That number of songs was only available on the company’s Unlimited Music plan, which starts at $9 per month. There’s a catch: music on Prime can only be played in shuffle mode or via playlists, some of which are personalized to users’ tastes and can be downloaded to listen offline. Unlimited subscription subscribers can select specific songs.
The expansion comes as Prime member growth has stalled in the US, according to a July report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a Chicago-based company that tracks Prime members through consumer surveys. Amazon increased its annual membership price by $20 in February and had about 172 million members as of June 30, according to the report, which is the same as six months earlier. Amazon Prime costs $15 per month and includes free shipping and access to the company’s movies and TV shows.
Steve Boom, vice president at Amazon Music, said the service was an “astonishing benefit” to Prime subscribers when it first launched.
“Customer expectations have evolved, as always, especially as music streaming itself has become mainstream,” he told Bloomberg in an interview. “What we’ve consistently heard from our customers is that they really want access to all the music.”
The Prime tier is now the best place for people to access songs without paying for a separate music streaming service, Boom said. The company has been “very successful” in converting customers to the Unlimited tier. The ad-supported free tier, which is available to non-Prime members, has the fewest number of listeners, he said.
“We are of course always looking to improve Prime and add value to Prime,” he said. “What we’re really trying to do is grow the number of Prime members who take advantage of their benefits by making it more attractive.”
A January report from Midia, a research and consulting firm, placed Amazon Music as the third most popular streaming service in the world, after Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify offers an ad-supported free tier that also only allows shuffled playback, while Apple requires a subscription to use its music service for a long time. The Amazon updates may prompt some free Spotify users to switch to Amazon Music, especially if they have already subscribed to Prime.
As part of the update from Amazon, podcast fans get an added benefit: episodes without ads. The company will offer its Wondery show catalog without advertising, as well as any third-party programming, including the New York Times, Barstool Sports, NPR, CNN and ESPN. The platform will also exclusively feature new shows from Keke Palmer, YouTuber and TikTok star MrBallen and a weekly bonus episode of The Old Man and the Three from basketball player JJ Redick. A new technical feature in the app allows listeners to watch episodes before committing to listen.
Jen Sargent, chief executive officer at Wondery, said the company was seeking partnerships with networks that focus on the “largest possible selection” of shows, because the Prime customer is “everyone in the world.” She said the team will continue to look for more ad-free partnerships and exclusive programming.
Amazon now has four audio-oriented apps: Amazon Music, Wondery Plus, Audible, and Amp, which allow users to run their own shows. Boom said he doesn’t see audiobooks being integrated into Amazon Music, despite competitor Spotify entering the space. Wondery Plus, an app with ad-free podcasts and bonus content, will continue to do this for super fans, Sargent said. Meanwhile, Apple Music raised its price last week, prompting Spotify to say it would like to do the same in the US.
Boom said Amazon Music previously increased its prices for both the family and single-device subscriptions, and that the team is always “evaluating the right price for our customers.”