Captain Obvious Strikes Again: The Era of Streaming Is Here

Boy, oh boy, do I feel like an idiot. I read a news item this morning, and it unleashed a series of tremendously brilliant insights that rocketed through my brain . Surely, no one else had ever so deeply penetrated into the nature of the truth of things. Now, it occurs to me that in fact, everyone else had realized all this long ago. Captain Obvious had struck again.

The news item concerned Amazon. My flashes of supposed genius concerned the music business. As you probably know, Amazon has jumped into music streaming. Its Prime Music Service lets its Prime subscribers stream music from a library of 1 million tracks. The streams are free (well, free with your membership, anyway), and free of advertising too. Conveniently, you can skip songs or replay them, and listen offline too.

Music from Sony and Warner is available on Prime Music, but Universal Music is not. That means, for example, artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Eminem, Maroon 5, and Kanye West are AWOL. On the other hand, much of the music that customers purchased from Amazon (since it began selling CDs in 1998) will automatically appear in their personal Prime libraries. And, this includes Universal tracks. On the downside, recent hits (within six months) are not available on Prime Music.

Outfits like Spotify and Beats Music offer over 20 million tracks. I wondered, why on earth would Amazon launch a streaming service with only 1 million tracks? Moreover, Amazon already has over 25 million tracks for sale and in fact is one of the world’s biggest retailers of music. Why would it compete against its own downloading business with “free” streaming? The reasons are simple. In fact, the numbers tell it all: According to Nielsen, in the first half of 2014, downloaded music sales declined by 12.5 percent compared with a year ago. At the same time, music streaming was up 35 percent.

The golden age of CD is a distant memory. Now comes the era of streaming.

The golden age of CD is a distant memory. And, it’s the beginning of the end for downloading. Now comes the era of streaming. It was essential for Amazon to get into the streaming market. The same reasons compelled Apple to buy Beats, with its streaming service, for $3 billion. Amazon and Apple and everyone else realized that the sun was setting on their music downloading cash cows, but it’s just now dawned on me: In the future, our music will come to us through streams.

But all that aside, why, why, why did Amazon feel so compelled to start streaming? The deeper answer is depressingly obvious. There are 20 million Amazon Prime subscribers. They get benefits like free shipping on Amazon orders. Amazon likes these people because they are tightly bound to the company and buy lots of stuff online. Amazon recently raised its Prime subscription from $79 annually to $99. Amazon certainly does not want to lose Prime members.

Amazon Prime Music is a way to keep existing Prime members, and get new members too. Few serious music lovers would choose Prime Music instead of Spotify or other services, but Prime Music makes Amazon Prime an even better deal. That’s right, my friends: Prime Music is a sweetener, to get you to sign up for Amazon Prime. Amazon has 244 million active customers, and now Amazon can dangle yet another carrot to get them more tightly bound to the company.

Yes, my friends, it has come to this: Not only has music become a commodity, it is an incentive, a perk. The thing we hold dearest—music, the sound of the heartbeat of our souls—is now a way to get people to buy blenders online. And that development led me to the last, and most banal of my insights into the nature of today’s music business: As usual, the captains of the music industry have managed this newest technological revolution really well. Obviously.

utopianemo's picture

I hate you for telling the truth. I still buy CDs from Amazon and rip them to ALAC files on iTunes. I guess I'm of a dying breed......but if I can buy obscure japanese toys and video games from Amazon, I can't imagine they'll stop selling physical music. I'm too young to be a dinosaur.

John Sully's picture

I like the physical backup, and I like the higher fidelity of the full-res ALAC rips. Although I do like the autorip feature -- that way I can get instant gratification, too!

dommyluc's picture

I have Amazon Prime, and I stream a lot of video from it. But I cannot use the music service - even though I am entitled to it - because I do not use a smart phone, a tablet, or any of the other devices that Amazon made apps for. I stream audio through my Onkyo tx-nr717 and my Sony Blu-ray player, but I cannot stream Amazon Prime music, so I get cut out of the loop because I like to listen to sound through my surround system. I do not need a tablet, I do not want a smart phone, and I refuse to buy either, so I guess that since I am a smart consumer who will not buy something he does not want or does not need, I am screwed.
Also, the Amazon Music app to download music from their site is awful. I actually installed it, and when opened I let it run for 2 1/2 hours and it STILL could not find the music on my computer, and you couldn't stop it from searching so you could add it manually, so I shut it down and uninstalled. Luckily, I am not a dumbass and can download any music purchases manually directly to my hard drive.

WFO-to-the-end's picture

I have spotify but have been reading about tidal and beats .Why doesn't s&v have a shootout compare all of the streaming sites in one article

dommyluc's picture

I agree. I am an old dinosaur, and I like the idea of having a physical copy. I can make my own mp3s and FLAC versions, thank you very much, and I really get pissed that some sites expect me to pay $30 for a hi-res version of a CD. I just wish you could rip the SACD layer from a disc to the hard drive. Most SACDs are fairly cheap on Amazon, some as low as $10.

utopianemo's picture

The thing I really hate is now with the push to have everything cloud-based, iTunes tries to update my phone with low-res versions of the high quality tracks I have sitting at home on my hard drive. Amazon automatically tries to give me the digital versions of any CD I purchase, and it drives me crazy.

BTW, type in "rip sacd" in google and you should be able to find what you're looking for.....but it doesn't seem easy.

dommyluc's picture

And you're right about the SACD ripping. It's easier to build a nuclear reactor in my kitchen. Maybe I should call McGiver. He could probably rip an SACD to my hard drive using a Hershey Bar wrapper, a BIC pen tube, and a used Kleenex. Anyway, SACD hybrid discs should have been the standard. And I don't mind the free mp3 rips Amazon offers for some of the CDs I buy, but I'd rather rip them myself. It's not rocket surgery. LOL!

dommyluc's picture

Ken P., I guess what Amazon needs now is a Waring blender that streams music from your router. LOL!

MatthewWeflen's picture

Even excepting arguments regarding sound quality (which I am sympathetic to), personally I could never make streaming my primary source for music because I want to own something that can't be arbitrarily taken from me at the whim or the failure of a company. As such it can only be a supplement, just like Netflix is a supplement to my Blu-Ray collection.

Time will tell whether "kids today" feel the same or differently.

utopianemo's picture

Kids today do feel the same. Younger kids(including my own) who are growing up with computers have no attachment to physical media.

Granted, none of us have had to face the inevitable day when something big goes wrong and a lot of people lose a lot of data. But I know a lot of younger programmers and most of them feel that most things are fine to be completely cloud-based.

dommyluc's picture

Yes, I agree totally. I believe it's only a matter of time before some big cloud network gets hacked or loses their customer's data through sheer stupidity on their part.
Personally, I would rather have a home cloud via a network drive, but all of the network drives they seem to make get awful consumer reviews. Why can't they make an easy, reliable network drive so that every home can have a personal cloud? Are you listening WD, Seagate, etc.?

dommyluc's picture

One more thing: all of these home network drives that hook up to your router have Ethernet ports but also have USB 3.0 ports, but all uploading of data from your PC to the external drive has to be done through the Ethernet connection, yet doing the transfer through a USB 3.0 connection would be so much faster, but none of the drives allow you to do this. I wish someone would tell me why this is so.

clam's picture

USB was designed for device-device use. Ethernet was designed for networking. They're both good at what they were designed to do and aren't interchangeable. I don't know how much data you are moving around your network but gigabit Ethernet should be sufficient in speed for daily used. Don't look towards WD or Seagate for good network drive solutions - look at getting a NAS from Synology or QNAP instead.

dommyluc's picture

That is the same answer I get from other people, and that is not what I am talking about. I am not talking about streaming with the USB ports. I am talking about the ability to transfer the audio files and other files from the internal hard drive in my PC to the internal hard drive contained in the network unit via the USB 3.0 port from the PC to the USB 3.0 port on the network drive. And if I lived in the perfect magic land of Ethernet equality, perhaps transferring files via the Ethernet connection would be just as fast as doing so via the USB connection but, unfortunately, I and most other people have to deal with evil Internet providers who keep our speeds lower than we should get considering how much we pay per month and where we are located. I have no trouble streaming in my home, either with a wired or wireless connection (I use a wired connection for my home theater components and a wireless for other devices). And I know about the Synology and QAS options, but these end up costing major amounts of dinero, and I and many others just want an inexpensive way to stream in our homes without waiting 6 months for our files to finish transferring from the PC to the network drive.

clam's picture

Internet providers cannot dictate the speed of the Ethernet in your home. A single bay NAS can be bought in the $100-200 range (sans hard drive) which doesn't seem too unreasonable given the CPU, RAM, software etc required.