Amazon Prime is Amazon’s deluxe subscription model that initially only offered free two-day shipping on select items when it started. However, it has since expanded quite a bit into a slew of varied services that run the gamut from books to movies to, yes, additional shipping perks.
This gradually increasing range of services was precipitated by a price hike in 2014 from $79 per year to $99 per year. In response to this adjustment, many Prime users really started to wonder if it was worth keeping their membership.
Now that question is even more difficult to answer, because Amazon Prime’s value hinges not only on how many items you order, but also how much use you get out of its other services. Here we’ll take a look at everything that Amazon Prime encompasses in 2016 and try to figure out if it’s really worth it.
This has been a major selling point for Amazon prime since its inception. The big highlight is, of course, the free two-day shipping. That sure is mighty convenient, especially if you, like me, are really bad at planning a week in advance.
When this was still the spotlight feature of Amazon Prime, figuring up if the subscription was worth it to you boiled down to some fairly simple math. The cost of paying for two-day delivery outright was $3.99. So that meant that if you made fewer than 25 Amazon Prime-eligible orders over the course of a year, then you might as well have cancelled your service and just forked over the $3.99 for each order.
But now things have gotten more complicated even in the narrow topic of shipping. For starters, Amazon has started adding ways to get that free shipping without having a Prime subscription. Their program Fulfillment by Amazon Small and Light lets US residents skip paying for shipping on specific items costing less than $10 and weighing 8oz or less. On the other end of the spectrum, Amazon now lets you take advantage of free shipping if your cart contains all Prime-eligible items and has a total exceeding $49. If these items are all books, then the total only has to be $25 to qualify. Come on, guys. It’s like you don’t even want me to pay you for Prime!
However, while it’s possible to get free shipping without Prime, Amazon has been sweetening their Prime shipping perks for subscribers. For instance, many Prime members in certain cities can get same day delivery on qualifying orders exceeding $35. Hell, with Prime Now, some zip codes get free two-hour shipping for select groceries and electronics and one hour delivery of takeout restaurant food (not available in my area, but I hear it’s freaking sweet). Two day delivery is still free for all eligible items regardless of your cart’s total, and one day shipping is notably cheaper for Prime users: just $2.99 per item. Prime Pantry is also a pretty cool service that lets you get many of your groceries and home goods delivered to your doorstep (if you live in the continental US) for a flat delivery fee of $5.99. In the same vein, you also get exclusive discounts on family products like diapers.
From my perspective, though, this really just isn’t enough to make it worth it. I simply don’t order enough Prime eligible items in the $10-$35 range to justify it, and a lot of subscribers are in the same camp. This is where the other benefits of Prime membership come into play, and it’s where the math starts to get messy.
Video streaming services
For a while there, all eyes were on Netflix and HBO as each tried to become the other faster than its opponent. Amazon launched their streaming video service with relatively little fanfare, and if memory serves, them was slim pickin’s in the beginning.
I remember when I first realized I had access to Amazon’s video streaming library. After accidentally stumbling into Amazon Video, I checked it out for about twenty minutes before realizing Netflix already had most of these selections and a lot more to boot. I basically forgot about Amazon’s video services until “The Man in the High Castle” and “Mozart in the Jungle” started making waves. I pulled the library back up, and was surprised at how expansive it had become.
Now that Amazon has entered the exclusive content production game alongside HBO and Netflix, they’ve become a much more competitive force in this category. Whatever the next Amazon-produced “PERSON in the PLACE” television series is, you can pretty much bank on it being a hit you’re going to want to check out.
However, their library isn’t quite as good as Netflix and, in my experience, Amazon Instant Video isn’t anywhere as smart as Netflix. Netflix starts to get really good at recommending movies for you if stay in the habit of doling out star ratings with machiavellian brutality. Amazon Video does nothing comparable. Those stars represent user reviews, like those on IMDb, not an estimation of how much you’re going to like a show or movie. Clumsy navigation still afflicts the service as well, but in general, everything about Amazon Video has improved drastically over the last couple of years.
Even more recently, Amazon created their Streaming Partners Program, which bundles together streaming services to let you watch and manage subscriptions all within Amazon Video. Amazon’s “X-Ray” feature is functional on all media content streamed this way, letting you check out IMDb information about what you’re watching without opening another window.
It doesn’t take a PhD in Extrapolation to predict that Amazon will continue improving their user experience, expanding their library, and producing more exclusive content in the future, so your Amazon Prime membership will probably only get more valuable going forward in this regard.
Music streaming services
In the grand battle of music streaming services, there are a lot of subscriptions to choose from. Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, (RIP Rdio), etc. I think we can all agree that Google Play Music All Access is the all around best one and anyone who uses anything else is delusional. If you don’t agree, come at me in the comments, bro.
Prime Music looks like it’s trying to get into this action, but the streaming service is still a serious underdog. Sure there’s over a million songs available for instant streaming, but Spotify is sitting pretty with a solid 20 million in their library. Google Play Music All Access has over 35 million, and Apple Music is supposed to have something like 43 million. This isn’t bringing a knife to a gunfight; this is bringing a toothpick to global thermonuclear war.
Amazon’s music library is also cycling, so it doesn’t seem to be the best option at all for someone who has a meticulously curated library with hundreds of hand-crafted playlists. However, for the casual music fan who would just as soon listen to their radio as anything else, Prime Music has something for just about any taste. The service would have to expand and change quite a bit before it starts attracting serious music buffs, but as an added service that you’re already paying for, it’s not bad at all.
For bookworms, Amazon Prime comes with some serious pluses. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can still take advantage of these using the free Amazon Kindle app on your smartphone.
As a Prime user, you get access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which is like the world’s largest ongoing book-swap meet. For those looking to save a buck or two, this is a great way to find new authors, as you basically get a free book each month. You have to give it back when you’re through, so fans of re-reading will probably want to purchase their own digital copy.
Prime users also get access to Kindle First, which is another way to snag free books. Every month, Amazon posts some select Kindle First picks, and from this list, Prime members can download a digital copy on the house.
To be transparent, I haven’t been taking advantage of either of these benefits at all because I’m still buying physical books like some sort of Amish luddite. As is the case with all of these services, how much value it adds to Prime is entirely contingent on how much you use it.
Odds and Ends
There are a handful of other perks that Prime Members get that don’t fit well into any other category, but they contribute to the service’s value for some. For instance, Prime Photos is an unlimited cloud storage service that comes part-and-parcel with your Prime membership, but nobody should really be using it because Google Photos does the same thing better for free. You also get access to Amazon Elements, which is Amazon’s initiative to create their own line of everyday products. Prime Early Access lets you see Lightning Deals thirty minutes earlier than non-Prime users. Two adults living at the same address can create an “Amazon Household” to share select benefits. Prime users also get a substantial 20% price cut on new video games if they pre-order or buy within two weeks of release, but there are some convincing arguments that pre-ordering is bad for the gaming community across the board.
Breaking down the numbers
I pay for my own Netflix, but I’m an HBO GO parasite – and you can put down your gavel there, judge, because I know you’re just riding off your coworker’s Hulu account. So even though I get to enjoy the spiraling depression of The Leftovers, I’m going to leave HBO GO out of my math here.
For Netflix, I spend $8 a month. I’m also an evangelistic Google Music All Access subscriber, and for that I gladly pay $10 per month. That means for those two services alone, I pay $216 every year.
Now, Amazon’s libraries and features for their analogous services clearly just aren’t as good as my two favorites, but are they more than half as good? Amazon Prime is just $99, so I’m currently paying more than twice for these services than I would by just subscribing to Amazon’s B-squad content and interface. However, I clearly prefer the streaming services I’m already using, and I do feel like I get $216 worth of value out of them annually. This means that, of the $99 I’m paying toward Prime every year, very little of this goes toward me using their streaming services.
I two-day ship practically everything I order from Amazon, but these days the vast majority of my orders would qualify for the Small and Light program or the $49+ free shipping. Since I’m still stuck on physical books, all the Kindle perks go to waste, and by ordering two or three books at a time, I could easily cash in on that non-Prime free shipping for book orders valued $25 and up.
Effectively, I’m paying $99 per year to get maybe three or four packages sent to me for free and to watch “Mozart in the Jungle.” I must be out of my mind.
So is Amazon Prime really worth it? In short, no. It’s not.
Well, to be more specific, it’s not worth it to me in the way that I’m currently using it. I’m not taking advantage of the vast majority of services that come with a Prime membership, and since I use subscription services like Netflix and Google Play Music, I’m effectively double-paying for similar services. I enjoy the benefits of free two-day shipping frequently, but most of my purchases are now covered by shipping perks that extend beyond Prime members. It’s possible that many, many Prime members are in same situation as me.
For Prime to really be worth its price tag, you have to actively engage all of the benefits it brings to the table. For a family of avid video gamers who see nothing wrong with pre-ordering, who are living in a city where Prime Now is available, who have a baby in the house that needs cheap diapers, and who aren’t super concerned about curated music libraries or robust streaming services… Prime is hella worth it. Everything it offers fits neatly into the needs of their lifestyles. For me personally, and for many others, it would be fiscally responsible to ditch Amazon Prime, take advantage of the non-Prime shipping perks, and stick with dedicated streaming services.
Am I going to do that, though? Will I extricate myself from the cycle of unthinkingly auto-renewing Prime year after year? Well, I’m not super fiscally responsible, so probably not. Also I have to finish “Mozart in the Jungle.” For me, Prime remains a splurge that I know I’m over-paying for, and no reasoned arguments – apparently not even ones made by me – will coerce me away from it. This is madness, but it’s my madness and I’m comfortable in it.
So what are your thoughts regarding Amazon Prime? Are you using enough of these services to justify the $99-per-year price? Did you discover any benefits in this list that you didn’t know you were missing out on? Let us know in the comments below!