Amazon: The Company that Can’t Figure Out Music

It’s embarrassing, really. Here we are with one of the largest retail companies ever conceived by man. A place where from your internet-connected device you can order anything from books, electronics,  to mincemeat, to fifty-gallon drums of personal lubricant. You can also buy just about any album in physical form whether it be brand-new or something long out of print. It’s the Sears Roebuck of my generation, and it’s done a pretty good job to that effect.

Naturally, as any online retailer does, Amazon tries to branch out into the digital distribution realm. They’ve done okay on the video side of things with a decent offering for Prime subscribers. Software purchases are also very smooth, with many games even working with Steam out of the box. Music streaming, however, is where Amazon fails miserably. And they fail in a way that a company known for innovation really shouldn’t.

Amazon recently introduced their revamped Amazon Music service, boasting millions upon millions of songs available on all of your devices. As a guy who has jumped from one streaming service to another, I was hopelessly intrigued. The size of a service’s library isn’t much of a selling point these days since most services now have similar catalogs and most of those services have ways to mesh your personal library with theirs.

I thought that Amazon Music would grant me that same luxury. I had used their previous iteration of streaming service in the past, which was then less miserable. It allowed me to sync my library with Amazon’s. The issue? Hundreds of duplicate items in all of my playlists. A pure clusterfuck. I then went to Google Music with little to no fuss. With the new Amazon Music, the duplicate issue didn’t seem to appear, since you now have to pay a new yearly fee to have your library synced. On top of my Prime subscription, I’d have to pay an extra $25 a year to store my songs, even though I already have an amount of cloud storage that could accommodate it.

The abysmal desktop application did not help my understanding of this fact. In my attempts to sync my library, no progress notifications were provided. The user interface twitched, brightened, and faded with each tiny movement of the mouse. It crashed a couple of times. My first few attempts to log in were unsuccessful. Downloading and uploading playlists was a frustrating experience.

This isn’t how Amazon usually does things. They usually work on a project obsessively until it’s to their satisfaction. Amazon Echo is a perfect example of what they can do right.  So what the hell is wrong with Amazon Music? I think they believe that a vast library will solve all of their problems. It won’t if it sucks to interact with that library. In my many and almost obsessive jumps across streaming platforms, the one that always gets my repeat business is Spotify – because the software is good! It treats my personal library not as an afterthought, but almost as a friend. It’s seamless. Google Play does a similarly good job. It’s infuriating that Amazon can’t equal this with all of their resources and built-in userbase in their Prime customers.

Here’s what they could do. Go ahead and charge Prime customers for the actual streaming service. Don’t further nickel-and-dime them for storing their music. Go ahead and charge the non-prime folks for that. Make desktop and mobile applications that actually work. I’m pretty sure that most of the population of the Seattle-Tacoma area are Amazon developers, so use ’em.

In the meantime, stick with Google Play or Spotify, ’cause Amazon Music is the very definition of a hot mess.

My Relationship with Alexa

I read a recent article in The Guardian about Amazon Echo, the nondescript black obelisk that sits in your home and caters to your every whim and question and pushes you further into the Amazon cult. I thought I’d give a quick opinion on my former relationship with Alexa, the female voice that embodies Echo.

Full disclosure: I am in love with Amazon. I order stuff from them at least once a week. I got the Echo at a deeply discounted rate as an early-adopting Prime member. It was great. You talk to Alexa in casual language and she answered most queries accurately. Much better than the absolutely horrendous Siri. All was well and good. I had her play NPR’s national top-of-the-hour news when I was getting ready for work and she played music too.

However, that’s when the coolness ended. Sound quality, although decent, wasn’t anything compared to my Sonos Play:5. On top of that, you soon realize that Echo listens to everything. Sure, Alexa is only supposed to really listen and respond when you say her name, but can we really be certain? Echo’s code is closed-source, and Amazon, as great as they are when buying random crap late at night, have one goal in mind: to be the only place where you buy things. To do that, they want to know what you think about buying, what you discuss buying, et cetera. It was this reason, along with it’s redundancy in my home audio system, that caused me to sell Echo on eBay at a huge profit.

Yeah, Echo is a cool tool that has had many other features added to it, like IFTTT and smart home features, but at it’s core, it’s a salesperson. I don’t like salespeople coming into my home.