Saturday, September 30, 2023

For some, Amazon Music’s major Prime expansion comes with major frustrations

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

This week, Amazon announced it would be opening its entire catalog of streaming music to Prime subscribers instead of the limited, scaled-down library they previously had access to. The number shot up from 2 million songs to 100 million. At first glance, that sounds like great news. Who wouldn’t want more songs without spending something extra on top of their Prime subscription? Normally you would have to pay separately for Amazon Music Unlimited to get the same huge selection.

But it turns out there are people who are terribly angry at the changes Amazon has made in the course of expanding its catalog for Prime customers. As a total, lifelong music geek, I can empathize with anyone freaking out because a service they were familiar with suddenly revised the rules and started working differently than it did a few days before.

Not everyone is disappointed. I get a lot of “this is great” comments on social media from people who often use Amazon Music for background music or casual listening. A tons of the people ask Alexa to hear a certain artist on their Echo speaker, often with little concern for any song.

Still, Prime customers are once again reminded that they never really own anything with streaming services, and everything can change in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, Amazon Music teaches the lesson that people use free services more often than many of us realize. And once they get used to something, you better have a good reason to make such drastic changes. Are more songs worth it? For the casual listener, probably. But there is certainly a vocal contingent that is unhappy with the new approach.

From what I’ve gathered so far, the main bottleneck is that Prime customers can no longer hear exactly what they want when they want. The old catalog was smaller, yes, but it gave on-demand access to every song or album that was recorded. And if you created a playlist of songs from the Prime song pool, you could listen to it and skip it wherever you wanted.

That is now (almost) all gone.

Apparently, in order to expand Amazon Music Unlimited’s huge catalog to Prime subscribers, the company had to immediately eliminate the freedom of playing a specific song. Now everyone is stuck in the land of the shuffle. In addition, customers complainwith a lot of vulgarity in this case) that carefully curated playlists switch to “similar” songs instead of sticking to their original order. If you try to beat the shuffle system by creating new playlists of music you really want to hear, those will also be filled with recommended songs.

A chart comparing features from the different levels of Amazon Music.
This is how Amazon explains the differences between the different Amazon Music tiers. More details can be found here.
Screenshot: Chris Welch / The Verge

In other words, the included Prime version of Amazon Music now behaves similarly to Spotify’s free ad-supported tier, albeit without annoying ads. The previous Prime experience was relatively unique in the degree of flexibility it offered. And now it’s… not nearly as flexible.

The value of Amazon is that bonuses like ad-free listening, offline downloads, and podcast benefits make up for the lack of music-on-demand selection. And there are also 15 “All-Access” playlists, several of which are personalized for each user, that to do allow you to select a particular track or jump around to your heart’s content. Again, all this comes with a Prime membership and costs nothing extra.

A few customers report problems and bugs when they try to play their purchased and uploaded songs in ways that were previously possible. At the very least, they believe some of that content is: getting harder to find. Amazon Music stopped accepting uploads years ago, but the company still sells a lot of digital music separate from its subscription service. And it continues to gift digital copies to customers who purchase select CDs and vinyl albums in-store. None of that should be more difficult to access. If this is the case, you should probably contact the company’s customer service.

Purchased music remains accessible through your library, artist/album pages on Amazon Music, and through Alexa. The only asterisk is that if you have a playlist that combines its own content with other songs, it will play in shuffle mode. Playlists that exist exclusively of purchased music can be streamed on demand. If you see different behavior, Amazon may still be solving some issues after the major catalog expansion.

The edge has contacted Amazon for comment. Either way, the company isn’t about to turn back on this new path; Amazon Music VP Steve Boom laid out all the reasoning behind the changes Decoderand some analyst firms see huge potential. Unfortunately, letting you choose between 2 million songs with full control or shuffle mode for 100 million songs also seems a bit impractical. But there’s no way Amazon can’t hear some of this feedback and frustration. In the meantime, discouraged customers are mulling over whether to buy a full Amazon Music Unlimited subscription or go elsewhere for their music repair.

I wish I had valuable advice to share, but I lead a life of chaos when it comes to digital music: In addition to my Apple Lossless library, I subscribe to Spotify, pay for an annual Amazon Music subscription, and have hundreds personal uploads available to stream on YouTube Music. I’m pretty sure I also get free Apple Music from Verizon. If a service ever breaks my heart, at least I have options. Maybe that’s the takeaway: always have a backup plan in this constantly evolving era of subscriptions.

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