Amazon is joining the hotly contested online music streaming business by launching its own service.
Prime Music is available free for subscribers of Amazon Prime, the company's $99-a-year membership program that includes free two-day shipping, a digital books lending library and video streaming of movies and TV episodes.
Amazon launched Prime Music, which is ad-free, on Thursday with more than 1 million songs from artists including Beyonce, Britney Spears, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Blake Shelton.
But the service won't focus on getting the newest releases, and its music catalog is relatively small compared with rivals: Although it reached licensing deals with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and independent labels, Prime Music is notably missing Universal Music Group, the world's largest music corporation. That means artists including Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Kanye West won't appear on Prime Music for now.
"We're not claiming to have full coverage at this time," Steve Boom, Amazon's vice president of digital music, said in an interview with The Times. He said the Seattle company would add new songs every month.
An Amazon streaming music service had been rumored for months and will go up against similar offerings from Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, Rhapsody and Google Play Music.
"We don't view this as a zero-sum game -- we think people will continue to listen to multiple music services," Boom said. "I don't need them to stop using another service, but to also use my service."
Because of its limited offerings, the service isn't expected to shake up the industry. But its virtually free cost (for people who are already Amazon Prime members) and Amazon's wide reach will likely help Prime Music become popular among consumers, especially those who have yet to try music streaming.
Shares of Amazon were down $6.99, or 2.1%, to $328.21 at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
Prime Music has a number of features that Amazon hopes will set it apart from the competition. The service will be ad-free, a benefit typically reserved on other music services for users who pay a premium.
Users will also get unlimited streaming and can choose which songs and albums to listen to, or rely on Amazon's pre-programmed playlists and personalized recommendations. They can download songs free from the catalog to their mobile devices for offline playback.
It's unclear whether Prime Music will cannibalize Amazon's music sales, both digital and physical.
"There are millions of people who want to buy and own music; there are also people that don't want to buy and own music. It's going to vary so widely," Boom said. "We won't know the answer to that question until months after and we see how consumers are reacting."
Prime members in the U.S. can start listening to Prime Music here. Kindle Fire HD and HDX devices will receive Prime Music in an automatic, over-the-air update. Android and iOS customers can download or upgrade to the latest Amazon Music app.
The addition of Prime Music is expected to drive more customers onto Amazon Prime -- and should mollify some subscribers who were upset when the Seattle online giant raised the price of a one-year subscription to $99 from $79 in March.
Since its inception nine years ago, Amazon Prime has grown to include tens of millions of subscribers (Amazon has never released a specific membership figure).
Although it began as a way for shoppers to receive unlimited free two-day shipping, the program expanded over the years to include access to more than 500,000 books to borrow for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and free streaming of more than 40,000 movies and TV episodes through Prime Instant Video -- although analysts estimate that Netflix's vault of content is significantly larger than Amazon's.
Eligible customers who are not already Prime members can try Prime Music with a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime.
Amazon has another big announcement coming up. It has sent out media invites for an event in Seattle on June 18 -- widely expected to be the unveiling of an Amazon smartphone.
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