When Amazon burst onto the crowded music-streaming market in October with its own competitor to Spotify and Apple Music, the question was how it would set itself apart.
The first crucial point it landed was on price. For Prime members, Amazon’s Music Unlimited service costs just $6.58 per month if you commit for a year ($79), versus the standard industry price of $9.99 — though $9.99 is what non-Prime members pay.
But another area Amazon wants to use to set itself apart is its curation, which it’s been developing since it launched its less-comprehensive Prime Music product in 2014. And Amazon’s approach to recommending songs you’ll like takes the form of the company’s general philosophy: approachability mixed with a ton of data and selection.
When you open up Amazon Music Unlimited, there are thousands of playlists Amazon has created for you sitting there, some generated by algorithms and others by its editorial team.
There’s not an infinite selection, but it would be a tall order to find the bottom of the well.
The huge selection is by design, Dave Dederer, head of programming and editorial, tells Business Insider. Amazon’s position is that having as big a selection as possible benefits the customer. And having more playlists gives Amazon more granular data on what people respond to, which in turn makes the algorithms better over time, Dederer continues.
When you scroll down a practically never-ending list of playlists and choose between “Awesome ’80s Country Songs,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Alabama and More,” or even “Tear in My Beer: Sad Country,” Amazon knows a bit more about the kind of country you are into.
Enter the humans
But Amazon’s algorithms aren’t the only things contributing to the company’s catalogue of thousands of playlists. There’s also a bunch produced by Amazon’s editorial team, which looks to fill in gaps a computer might not be good at.
An example is “Daily Digs,” which surfaces hidden gems, both new and old. “Songs not enough people have heard,” according to Amazon’s Jeff Reguilon, whose team makes “Daily Digs.”
While “Daily Digs” is hand-curated by Reguilon’s team, it doesn’t have a particular genre or demographic in mind. The idea is to be welcoming and not alienate anyone, Reguilon says. Generally, the Amazon team that puts together the playlists wants to steer away from imposing a particular musical vision onto anyone. The goal isn’t to be a musical authority or tastemaker.
That doesn’t mean the team isn’t obsessed with minute detail. Reguilon tells a story of trying to decide which version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” to put on a playlist. He sat there for three hours straight trying to parse the right one from dozens of options.
In all, Amazon’s approach to music curation fits snugly into the company’s broad approach. Reguilon talks about “super-serving” customers. Amazon wants to give you it all — every variation of playlist you could want, plus some human touch.
But versions of that vision exist at Spotify, Apple Music, and so on.
What Amazon could still benefit from is a blockbuster feature users latch onto as a reason to switch, or to stay. Spotify found it with “Discover Weekly,” its hyper-personalised playlist that gives you a new set of tunes each week. As Amazon builds its trove of data, and sees what users respond to, that feature could certainly emerge. And for now, Amazon can use the low price point and approachability to snag new users.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.