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.
Amazon Prime yearly vs monthly prices
Before we get into if Amazon Prime is worth the yearly price, we want to address the fact that the company also allows customers to sign up for the service on a monthly basis. Currently, the monthly subscription option is priced at $12.99 a month. This means that if you stuck with this option for a full year, you would pay about $156. Clearly, if you really, really want to get Amazon Prime, you best bet is to pay for the $99 annual fee up front.
Also, there’s an Amazon Prime Video monthly subscription option for $8.99 a month, which just gives you access to all of its streaming movies and TV shows. Once again, you will spend about $108 a year if you stick with this month-to-month plan, so the best option is just to get the $99 yearly subscription, which also gives you all of the other benefits of Amazon Prime.
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 Hulu 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 Netflix, Hulu and others, 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.
There’s also the fact that Amazon is getting into the movie production business as well, financing films that debut in theaters, such as the acclaimed Manchester by the Sea and, more recently, The Bix Sick. These films make their streaming debuts on Amazon Prime Video just months after they hit theaters.
Amazon Prime also continues to expand their original TV content offerings with shows like The Grand Tour (the car show produced by the former hosts of BBC’s Top Gear) and the detective show Bosch. They have also some shows fail, particularly in 2017, when a number of expensive and high brow shows, such as The Last Tycoon, Z: The Beginning of Everything, and others were cancelled after one season. However, the service has also added some great new original shows recently, such as the super hero sitcom The Tick and particularly The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which won the Golden Goble for best Comedy TV series.
The future of Amazon Prime Video, in terms of original content, is looking very promising. In addition to all of its returning shows, it will debut new programs in 2018, such as Jack Ryan, a new series based on the hero of Tom Clancy’s thrillers, along with Good Omens, a limtied series based on the comedy fantasy book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and The Boys, a super hero series that’s based on the ultra-graphic comic book written by Garth Ennis. Recently, Amazon announced plans to produce a new TV shows based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fantasy universe.
While Amazon’s original content on Prime Video is not able to match Netflix or Hulu, it’s clear that the company is sparring no expense in adding more shows that could become the next Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, in terms of popularity. Therefore, adding Prime Video as part of the Amazon Prime service makes it more attractive.
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 60 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 Prime Music’s library, which has about two million songs, 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.
There’s also Amazon Music Unlimited, which offers features such tens of millions of songs, no ads, support for downloading songs for offline listening, and a way to listen via voice controls if you own one of the company’s Echo smart speakers. Anyone can sign up for Amazone Music Unlimited for $9.99 a month (with a 30 day free trial) but if you are already signed up for Amazon Prime, you can get Amazon Music Unlimited for $7.99 a month, shaving $24 off the price if you stick with it for a year.
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.
More recently, Amazon started selling a number of unlocked smartphones from a number of companies like Motorola, LG and more, with lock screen ads. Amazon Prime members can get discounts as large as 25 percent when they buy one of these unlocked phones.
Breaking down the numbers
For Netflix, you can spend as little as $8 a month, which lets you access the service on one streaming device at a time at non-HD resolution. Google Music All Access subscribers pay $10 per month, which also offers access to YouTube Red, which eliminates ads from the video service, and offers its own small selection of original content. That means for those two services alone, you can pay $216 every year.
Amazon Prime’s video and music services cost just $99 a year but are they more than half as good? That depends. Amazon’s video content is well below Netflix’s but it is improving, and will continue to get better. However, if you had to pick between the two, the combo of Netflix and Google Music All Access seem to offer $216 worth of value out of them annually, while paying $99 for Amazon Prime every year doesn’t offer quite as much value.
So the big question now becomes, “Is Amazone Prime a good value for $99 a year if you use more than its streaming services?” If you shop a lot on Amazon annually, you can usually recover the cost of the service with the savings you get on two-day shipping on millions of items. If you only shop on Amazon occasionally, then the $99 yearly membership may not be worth it.
So is Amazon Prime really worth it for $99 a year? As you’ve likely figured out by now, it depends a lot on what kind of user you are.
If you do take advantage of the vast majority of services that come with a Prime membership, such as free two-day shipping, Prime Now one day and one hour delivery access for cities that support it, free access to Kindle Prime books and other benefits, then signing up to Amazon Prime is very much worth it.
However, if you are not a heavy Amazon buyer of goods, and want to save some money, then your best bet is to ditch the $99 yearly fee and stick with Netflix and Google Music. They may cost more, but they also offer a ton of content in return, and ultimately, that’s where you want to spend your hard earned money.
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!