Amazon Music today basically soft-launched its free streaming tier, in which U.S. customers of its Alexa voice assistant will have access to top Amazon Music playlists and thousands of stations, at no cost. The limited access that the new free service provides — it’s only available through Alexa, and when the listener requests a song, it leads to an Amazon playlist or station, rather than an album — is presumably the first phase of a full ad-supported (i.e. free, with ads) streaming tier that will launch at some point in the future.
“Beginning today, customers in the U.S. who do not yet have a Prime membership or a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited will now be able to listen to an ad-supported selection of top playlists and stations for free with Amazon Music on compatible Alexa-enabled devices,” the announcement reads. “Customers now have access to play a station based on a song, artist, era, and genre, and to hear some of Amazon Music’s top global playlists including Country Heat, Fuego Latino, Pop Culture, and more.”
Over the past few years, Amazon has quietly become the third-largest streaming service in the world, behind Spotify and Apple Music — a fact that is obscured by its relatively small place in Amazon’s gargantuan business. However, led by VP of Music Steve Boom, over the past couple of years the company has been pushing harder into the music space, with exclusive features on big artists with new releases — such as its one-time-only “SoundBoard” specials with U2, Elton John and Justin Timberlake — and generally making more noise about its offerings. This move is clearly an attempt to gain greater leverage in the music world — and, not least, to provide more advertising opportunities for its partners and products.