First, Amazon came for our books.
That's how Jeff Bezos got the idea for the company that would earn him his $134.4 billion fortune. From there, Amazon quickly expanded its reach from books to music, then to home goods and tech—and today, we are living in a world that Amazon built.
Now, Amazon has come full circle, back to the market it cut its teeth on—the arts—and once again, it's meeting the industry on its own terms, trying to oust Spotify and Apple Music by creating its own HD streaming service. Marketing itself as a high-definition platform, Amazon Music will cost $13 a month for Amazon Prime members and $15 a month for everyone else. Of course, Amazon already has a music streaming service, but this new platform is an attempt to appeal to audiophiles and everyone looking for a reason to pay a few extra dollars for a purportedly better-quality sound.
So, what actually is the difference between "high-fidelity" and "low-fidelity" streaming? On the average streaming service, you'll hear sound transmitted at 320 kilobits per second, whereas the full CD sound quality offered by Amazon and other high-fidelity streaming platforms (namely, Tidal) runs at 1,411 kbps.
This might mean a lot to audiophiles, recording engineers, and Neil Young (who publicly praised the platform), but in truth, this difference is next to impossible to detect for the average listener. Sonic fidelity always pales in importance to what kind of headphones or speakers you're using and what kind of environment you're listening in; there's a reason why musicians often beg that we don't listen to music on laptop speakers (really, please don't listen to music on laptop speakers). Plus, obviously you're not going to detect the nuances of every sine wave if you're listening on the subway. Some music is specifically mastered for cheap headphones and lo-fi streaming, while other music is mastered for hi-fi production and thereby won't sound exactly as the producer intended unless you're listening on studio speakers. All this is to say that while high-fidelity audio can make a difference it's far less important than just finding a quiet room.
Even so, high-fidelity quality doesn't always make a noticeable difference in a silent environment. According to a CNBC study, people correctly guessed whether or not they were listening to high-fidelity music one out of three times—about the average for people who are randomly guessing. Even though the test was conducted with top-notch audio equipment and professional audio engineers, most people just couldn't tell the difference. This study's findings was replicated several times over, by NPR and other sources.
This is not to say that audio quality isn't important or that high-fidelity audio is inaudible—but it shouldn't be the reason we give even more money than we already do to a corporation that is so unabashedly corrupt.
Amazon's attempt to sell music on a massive scale by pedaling lossless audio as an ideal is yet another one of the company's innumerable scams.
They're not the only company to promote high-fidelity streaming—Tidal also does and charges $20 per month—yet, unlike Amazon, which employs nearly 700,000 people, Jay-Z's company only has about 130 employees. Also, Tidal (despite its fair share of scandals) hasn't faced the disturbing accusations that Amazon has.
Much has been written about the company's horrific industry standards. There are reports of workers forced to pee in water bottles because they didn't have time to take breaks, kept in freezing or sweltering warehouses for months, forced into mandatory overtime and 60-hour weeks, and hired without benefits in huge numbers. All this so the richest man on Earth can continue to expand his fortune. We know this, yet we keep buying, feeding our addiction to Amazon's disturbingly intuitive service, falling for their marketing strategies, and subscribing to Prime because they have great TV shows and will drop a book at your doorstep tomorrow if you order it today.
Amazon's attempt to overtake the streaming industry by glorifying high-fidelity audio is yet more proof that the giant will stop at nothing to develop a monopoly over every industry (it wasn't an accident that Amazon's working title was Relentless). Amazon is far from the only corrupt corporation on the planet, but it is one of the most high-profile and pervasive, and it shows little sign of slowing down.
The truth is that Amazon does make life easier for many people, saving time the way technology always has (though somehow, we don't seem to have any more time for leisure). It does provide thousands of jobs and services. It will, technically, give us better quality audio. But is all this worth it? It doesn't really matter in the end, because we're going to wind up buying it anyway.