Amazon Prime is Amazon’s deluxe subscription model. When it started, it only offered free two-day shipping on select items. It has since expanded quite a bit, offering a slew of services focusing on books, movies, additional shipping perks, and more. This gradually widening range of services was precipitated by a price hike in 2014 from $79 per year to $99 per year. In May 2018, the annual price went up by $20 to $119 for new customers, and current subscribers saw that same price increase go into effect in June. In response to this adjustment, many people are starting to ask, “is Amazon Prime worth it?”
It’s a difficult question. Amazon Prime’s value hinges not only on how many items you order but also how much you use its other services. Here we’ll take a look at everything that Amazon Prime encompasses in 2018 and try to figure out if it’s really worth it.
Yearly vs monthly prices
Amazon allows customers to sign up for Prime on a monthly basis, too. Currently, the monthly subscription option costs $12.99 a month, which works out to $156 for a year. Clearly, if you really, really want to get Amazon Prime, your best bet is to pay for the $119 annual fee up front.
There’s also 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. You will spend about $108 a year if you stick with this month-to-month plan, so if you just want to get Amazon Prime Video, and nothing else, you can save $10 a year if you get it instead of the $119 a year fee for the full Amazon Prime experience.
This was the original selling point of Amazon Prime. The big highlight is, of course, the free two-day shipping. That sure is mighty convenient, especially if you are really bad at planning a week in advance.
When this was still the spotlight feature of Amazon Prime, figuring out if the subscription was worth it boiled down to some fairly simple math. The cost of paying for two-day delivery outright was $3.99, so if you had fewer than 30 Amazon Prime-eligible orders a year, you might as well cancel your service.
Now things are 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. Its Fulfillment by Amazon Small and Light program lets U.S. 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, the total only has to be $25 to qualify.
During the 2018 holiday season, Amazon announced it would offer free shipping for all of its customers without a minimum price point. This is only supposed to last until the end of the holiday shopping season. While you won’t get the fast two-day free shipping Prime subscribers get, there should be enough time for you to get whatever you want.
While it’s possible to get free two-day shipping without Prime, Amazon’s also been sweetening the Prime shipping perks for subscribers. Prime members in certain cities can get same day delivery on qualifying orders exceeding $35. With Prime Now, some zip codes get free two-hour shipping for select groceries and electronics, and one hour delivery of takeout restaurant food (it’s 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 pretty cool, letting you get many of your groceries and home goods delivered to your doorstep (if you live in the continental U.S.) for a flat delivery fee of $5.99. In the same vein, you also get exclusive discounts on family products like diapers.
During the holiday shopping season, Amazon is expanding its same-day shipping efforts (in the cities that support it) with free shipping on over three million items for Prime subscribers. Again, this is just for the current holiday season.
Whether Amazon Prime is worth it just for the shipping advantages depends on how often you shop. If you only shop online infrequently, it may not be worth it. Amazon’s free shipping for non-Prime members during the holidays makes this even clearer.
However, the benefits of Amazon Prime membership besides its shipping deals make things more complicated.
Video streaming services
For a while, all eyes were on Netflix and Hulu as they tried to become better option. Amazon launched its streaming video service to relatively little fanfare, and didn’t have much original or exclusive content.
Since then, Amazon Prime Video has expanded its reach considerably. It has launched acclaimed original series like “The Man in the High Castle,” “Transparent,” and “Mozart in the Jungle.” It also offers first access to Amazon Studios’ growing library of original films, which arrive a few months after they complete their theatrical runs.
Now that Amazon has entered the exclusive content production game alongside Netflix, Hulu, and others, it’s 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 will want to check out.
However the library isn’t quite as good as Netflix. In my experience, Amazon Instant Video isn’t anywhere as smart as Netflix, either. 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 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, though in general everything about Amazon Prime Video has improved drastically in the last couple of years.
Even more recently, Amazon created the 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.
Amazon Prime also continues to expand its original TV content offerings with shows like The Grand Tour (the car show from the former hosts of BBC’s Top Gear) and the detective show Bosch.The service has added great new original shows recently, like the superhero sitcom The Tick and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which won the Golden Goble and the Emmy in 2018 for best Comedy TV series. It’s had some fails too, particularly in 2017, when expensive and high brow shows like The Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything were canceled after one season.
The future of Amazon Prime Video’s original content looks very promising. In addition to all of its returning shows, it will debut new programs in 2019 like Good Omens, a limited series based on the comedy fantasy book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and The Boys, a superhero series based on Garth Ennis’ ultra-graphic comic book. 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 sparing no expense in adding more shows that could become the next Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, in terms of popularity.
Music streaming services
Prime Music looks like it’s trying to get into this action, but it’s still a serious underdog. Sure there are more than a million songs available for instant streaming, but Spotify is sitting pretty with a solid 60 million in its 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 — it’s bringing a toothpick to global thermonuclear war.
Amazon Prime Music’s library is also cycling, so it doesn’t seem to be the best option at all for someone who wants a meticulously curated library with hundreds of hand-crafted playlists. The service would have to expand and change quite a bit before to attract serious music buffs, but as an added service that you’re already paying for, it’s not bad at all. It actually might work well for the casual music fan who would just as soon listen to their radio as anything else.
There’s also Amazon Music Unlimited, which offers 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 Amazon 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.
Kindle and Audible perks
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. More recently, Amazon Prime added Prime Reading, which gives you unlimited access to over a thousand books, along with current issues of many magazines. It also offers free access books with Audible narration, along with free comics, Kindle Singles, and more.
Speaking of Audible, Prime members can access Audible Channels, which offers a curated selection of audio news stories, comedy shows, articles, talks, and more.
You may not be aware of this, but Amazon also owns Twitch, the streaming video service that caters to content creators. While it started as a gaming-oriented service, with creators streaming “Let’s Play” content live, Twitch has since expanded to include all sorts of content from creators. If you sign up for Amazon Prime, you are automatically signed up for Twitch Prime as well. As a member, you can get free games every month, along with free DLC for popular games like PUBG, League of Legends, Warframe and many more.
An even nicer benefit is that you can access the premium subscription package of one Twitch video creator for free with your Amazon/Twitch Prime membership. You can support your favorite Twitch streamer and get access to his, her or their premium content and privilages without having to spend extra money. The credit is normally worth $4.99 a month.
Odds and ends
Prime Members also get a handful of other perks that don’t fit well into any other category, but contribute to the service’s value for some. Prime Photos is an unlimited cloud storage service nobody really uses it because Google Photos does the same thing better for free. Amazon Elements is Amazon’s initiative to create its 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 percent price cut on new video games if they pre-order or buy within two weeks of release, though there are some convincing argument pre-ordering is bad for the gaming community across the board.
Prime members can get discounts as large as 25 percent when they buy unlocked phones from Amazon. More recently, the company announced plans to launch Amazon Prime Book Box, a subscription service that will send two to four children’s books to homes for a monthly fee.
Finally, if you live near a Whole Foods grocery store, you can get an extra 10 percent off certain items at the story, and special deals just for Prime members. Some Whole Foods locations offer two-hour delivery of your online grocery order to your home for Prime members.
Breaking down the numbers
For Netflix, you can spend as little as $8 a month for access to the service on one streaming device at a time at non-HD resolution. YouTube Music costs $10 per month, and if you upgrade to YouTube Premium for $12 a month, it eliminates ads and offers its own small selection of original content. For those two services alone, you can pay as much as $240 every year.
Amazon Prime’s video and music services cost just $119 a year, but are they more than half as good? 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, Netflix and YouTube Premium seem to offer $240 worth of value annually. Paying $119 for Amazon Prime every year doesn’t offer quite as much value.
If you shop a lot on Amazon annually, you can usually cover the cost of the service with the savings you get on two-day shipping. If you only shop on Amazon occasionally, the $119 yearly membership may not be worth it.
Is Amazon Prime worth it? It depends on what kind of user you are.
If you take advantage of the services that come with a Prime membership, like 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 many other benefits, signing up to Amazon Prime is very much worth it.
If you are not a heavy Amazon buyer of goods and want to save some money, your best bet is to ditch the $119 yearly fee and stick with Netflix and YouTube Music or YouTube Premium. 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? Is Amazon Prime worth it to justify the $119-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!