Amazon’s Prime Music expands catalog and curated playlists

Prime Music expansion 250wAmazon’s Prime Music, which launched in June, has enhanced its service with “hundreds of thousands of songs,” and a big raft of new house-curated playlists. The service is pressing its strategy of providing easy lean-back listening to music mixes to Prime members, and de-emphasizing lean-forward music searching and collecting.

We took the opportunity to give the service a second review (launch review here), this time in an Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet, presumably the, er, prime interface for the platform, which is also available on the web and in other mobile devices. Oddly, the Fire presentation was not available when we first tested Prime Music, hours after it launched.

The catalog expansion represents an incremental addition to a relatively small song inventory. Amazon now claims “over a million songs.” A million-song catalog almost doesn’t count these days, when other big-media listening platforms put out between 20-million and 30-million tracks. (Pandora is another exception, with a repertoire believed to size up in the 1-2 million range — Pandora builds out its inventory with deliberate slowness thanks to the meticulous human-powered music analysis of the Music Genome Project.)

Anyway, size clearly isn’t everything for Amazon — it’s how the songs are used that counts. Enter the extensive selection of playlists. There was already some good listening in there, and Amazon has added hundreds of new stations. Some of them are keyed into an artist, like “Dave Brubeck and More” and “Gary Clark, Jr. and More.”

Prime Music playlist 250wIn the Kindle Fire, Prime Music is neatly packaged, and the Search function is useful. Put in “Bruno Mars,” for example, and Prime delivers songs, albums, and playlists (including “Bruno mars and More”).

Not all search results are available for free streaming in Prime Music, and purchase buttons are everywhere. The Kindle Fire HD presentation tightly integrates Amazon’s music store (available to everyone) with Prime Music listening (available to Prime members). That’s good for Amazon. It clutters things up if you just want to stream.

As we noted in the launch review, Prime Music forces you to “Add” a playlist to your “Library” in an artificial way. We didn’t like it in the first review, and we don’t like it now — but the process is more intuitive in the Kindle than in the web interface. We wish we could hit Play and hear full songs, not 30-second excerpts. We shouldn’t be forced to build a library off to the side.

That complaint aside, Prime Music is making an energetic pitch for the ears of Amazon’s many millions of existing Prime members. (The company does not disclose how many there are.) Keeping Prime users in the system is the strategy; easy listening to curated stations is the tactic. Selling some music along the way doesn’t hurt, but Amazon certainly knows how that trend is going. (Down.)

Brad Hill