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Amazon’s streaming music aims for more casual listeners "Over the last year, another technology giant, Amazon, has been quietly building a competitor with a slightly different approach."

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SEATTLE — The music industry’s streaming wars are usually seen as having three major combatants: Spotify, Apple and Pandora.

Over the last year, however, another technology giant, Amazon, has been quietly building a competitor with a slightly different approach. Amazon Prime Music, available to subscribers of the company’s $99-a-year Prime membership program, offers more than one million songs — a fraction of the catalogs available from services like Spotify and Apple Music, which each say they have more than 30 million tracks. And Prime Music lacks current hits by acts like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and the Weeknd.

Yet the company has begun to establish itself by focusing on what may be a vast part of the audience for streaming music: casual listeners and families. This part of the market, analysts say, may not mind the absence of a few current hits, especially considering that they can also receive the shipping discounts and streaming video offerings — like the Emmy-winning show “Transparent” — available to Prime members. And they may appreciate a surprise or two, like “Indie for the Holidays,” a playlist of 26 songs that Amazon commissioned from acts like Lisa Loeb, Rogue Wave, Robert Pollard and Langhorne Slim that will be available free for Prime members next week.


Steve Boom, Amazon’s vice president of digital music, said, “The sweet spot of Prime is really the young family.”CreditKyle Johnson for The New York Times

“There are people on the cutting edge of music who really want to be deep into the catalog, and then there are a lot of mainstream music fans for whom just having some good music to listen to is sufficient,” said Russ Crupnick of the consumer research firm MusicWatch. “That’s where a service like Amazon works out just fine.”

Amazon has not disclosed how many people use Prime Music and estimates vary widely. Using surveys, MusicWatch said that about 8.5 million people listen for at least one hour a month; some music executives who have dealt with Amazon put the number closer to three million or four million. (According to a recent estimate by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, the overall Amazon Prime program has 44 million subscribers in the United States.)

That is still well below the numbers for Spotify, which says it has 75 million users, including 20 million paid subscribers; and Apple, which has attracted 15 million users for its new Apple Music, 6.5 million of whom pay. Both cost $10 a month for a standard subscription.

Pandora has 78 million listeners, including 3.9 million who pay $5 a month for Pandora One, which eliminates advertising.

But analysts say that the growth of Amazon Prime Music since it began in June 2014 shows how quickly a major technology company can amass an audience large enough to challenge more established streaming services, especially when it bundles its music offerings with other services.

Steve Boom, Amazon’s vice president for digital music, said that the company began to develop its strategy for streaming music as the wider market for downloads began to tumble several years ago. “As customers have been shifting toward streaming, we knew we would ultimately have to get there,” he said in an interview at Amazon’s headquarters.

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