Rumours that Amazon is preparing to launch a streaming music service have been circulating for some time now, and in recent months they have narrowed down to suggestions that it’ll be part of Amazon’s Prime subscription service, alongside free shipping and access to TV shows and films.
When will it launch? Potentially as early as today, according to the New York Times, although its report warned that the service will be “limited”. Some of those limitations have already been reported on: particularly the suggestion that Amazon’s service won’t carry albums until some time after their release.
The NYT piece throws in a big new rumour though: that Universal Music’s catalogue will be completely missing at launch, while its publishing deals have been signed through compulsory licensing rather than direct deals, which could hold back certain features. Indies aren’t mentioned, but if they haven’t been licensed, we suspect we’ll be hearing from Merlin shortly after the service launches.
There are also details of the negotiations: small labels offered one-year licensing agreements in return for “shares of a $5 million royalty pool, to be divided by a market-share formula of Amazon’s choosing”, and bigger labels and distributors offered bigger upfront payments totalling around $25m – an insight into the costs of launching a streaming service in 2014 (or, more accurately, into the costs this particular internet giant is willing to invest).
Hardball negotiations are no surprise from Amazon, which in other parts of its business remains locked in contractual disputes with Hachette for books and Warner Bros for films – US customers are currently unable to pre-order The Lego Movie and other films in the latter case.
But in 2014, it continues to be surprising and disheartening in equal measure that – however you apportion the blame between tech firms and rightsholders – high-profile digital music services end up coming to market missing one of the three major labels (or the ‘fourth’ in the form of independents).
Let’s wait to see what Amazon actually launches now, though. The New York Times leak has the air of down-to-the-wire licensing frolics, after all, so things could still change.