Will Amazon Beat Apple To The Hi-Res Music Streaming Punch?
I've been predicting for some time that one of the major streaming services would begin to offer higher resolution music, if for no other reason than for brand differentiation. Who would've thought that the service to make the first move would be Amazon?
A recent post from Music Business Worldwide states that Amazon is in active talks with record labels for license agreements for better-than-CD quality music material, and that one (still unnamed) is onboard.
What makes the rumor even better is that the proposed new Amazon hi-def music tier will reportedly be available for $15 a month, which is cheaper than what's become the standard $19.99 per month of Tidal, Deezer, and the latest entry into the field, Qobuz. Qobuz goes a step further by offering a $24.99 per month "Studio" tier that offers 24 bit/up to 192kHz FLAC-encoded material as well.
Now the biggest surprise in all of this is that Apple isn't the first in on the hi-res music market since it's been ingesting almost everything into its library at 24 bit and up to 96kHz since 2011. Technically one would think that it would be relatively easy for the company to just turn the spigot on with higher-resolution audio in Apple Music either on its current paid tier or a new more-expensive offering.
Of course, the company can't just do that without permission from the rights holders, and word has it that the labels have resisted so far. The fact that Amazon is making headway on this point probably means that they're offering something that Apple is not.
While money is no doubt an issue here, Amazon does potentially offer something that neither Apple Music or Spotify has – expanded distribution up and down buyer demographics and leads into physical product.
Should Amazon procure the proposed hi-def licensing, it will be able to offer a free entry-level tier, paid tiers at multiple levels (the standard $9.99 per month, $7.99 with Prime membership, and $3.99 with an Echo device), and a premium hi-def tier. Plus there's the substantial marketing on all levels (especially Prime) that goes with it, and the easy entry into high-margin CDs, Blu-Ray or Vinyl for the cream-off-the-top impulse buy. Apple is powerful and it may have 850 million credit cards on file worldwide, but it doesn't have the total potential product reach of Amazon.
Now the thing to remember is that while Apple has all those high-resolution master song files in house and ready to go, so do the record labels, since Apple tasked them with providing the highest quality source material they could years ago now. That said, record labels have been traditionally bad about maintaining assets, and often can't find important artist catalog material when needed. That said, there are now several third party companies that help with source and delivery logistics, so you can be sure that at least the hi-res versions of the recent hits are pretty much easily available from the major labels.
What that means is that Apple might have waited too long and lost its built-in advantage, which Amazon is now threatening to scoop right out from under it.
Keep in mind that Amazon Music's high-resolution hopes may be only just a serious inquiry that might not come to fruition. It might be just the thing to get Apple and other services to up the ante in music resolution though, and music consumers everywhere will be the winners.