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Amazon Prepares To Launch Cheaper Music Streaming Service


Amazon launched a new music streaming service today into an already crowded field. Spotify and Apple Music have tens of millions of subscribers, but Amazon is coming to market with something different - a monthly fee of just $3.99 with some artificial intelligence thrown in. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The artificial intelligence is integrated into the Amazon Echo, and it's impressive. To those more intimate with it, it's also known as Alexa. It's a standalone device with a speaker and what many experts say is some of the best voice recognition software on the market. You can dictate shopping lists to Alexa, set timers, ask for news briefs, ask it to play a particular song in your music library. The new service has millions of songs, and you can do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Alexa, play that song that goes, I can make your hands clap.

ALEXA: "HandClap" by Fitz and the Tantrums from Amazon music.


MICHAEL FITZPATRICK: (Singing) I can make your hands clap.

SYDELL: To make this work, Amazon's Steve Boom says the company has been collecting data from millions of Alexa users about how they talk to it about music, and they've been programming Alexa to respond.

STEVE BOOM: To learn characteristics of different songs in the catalog so that when people ask for things the way they want to ask for them, that we can respond to that.

SYDELL: Responding in a way that caters more to the way humans actually speak is a great way to open people up to the vastly expanding universe of artificial intelligence, says James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: And I think that Amazon is signaling that it believes it can have conversations like this with users about many, many more things in the future.

SYDELL: So in the future, Alexa might be connected to the lights in your house, the garage and of course Amazon's vast retail empire. Then there's the price. It's not quite as good as it looks. You already have to have an Echo to get the 3.99 a month, and it only works on the Echo. If you want it to work everywhere else, it costs 7.99 a month. Still, that's less than the leading standalone streaming service Spotify. McQuivey says Amazon can afford to do such low pricing because it's not just a music service, and other big companies might follow.

MCQUIVEY: Because it is such a valuable creator of frequent customer interactions. And Amazon knows this. Apple knows this, and Google also knows it.

SYDELL: Amazon won't say how many people own the Amazon Echo, only that it's in the millions. But it could be enough to be a major challenger to Spotify. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.