Amazon Prime has always been about the shopping perks. Its free two-day shipping is the standout benefit of membership, and customers in select metropolitan areas have it even better. Certain items are eligible for free same-day delivery to many city-dwellers, and Amazon Prime Now provides free two-hour delivery of locally sold ‘groceries, gifts [and] goodies.’ For $99 a year, there’s no question that Prime buys you convenience.
But now Prime is trying to make each dollar go even further. Its expansion into streaming media is a start. And there are several extras of membership that push it in the direction of being an all-inclusive service.
Before anyone dons Prime the Costco of the Internet, though, it’s worthwhile to check out exactly what it offers besides retail services — and how it stacks up against the competition.
The ‘other’ services that make Amazon Prime a competitor
The conventional wisdom holds that Netflix is for movie-lovers and Hulu is for TV viewers. But each service encroaches on the other’s territory — and there’s the whole matter of how Prime Instant Video fits into the equation.
Prime’s streaming video service has been well-reviewed largely because of the benefits that come with it. At a little more than $8 a month, consumers get access to a growing video library plus all the shopping goodies? For the sake of value, it’s an awesome deal. But what about the quality of Prime’s selection and playback?
Consumer Reports performed an extensive comparison of Prime and Netflix in June, and it found that Prime actually offered more choice than Netflix: 17,000 movies and TV series to 10,000. However, Netflix was substantially better on providing HD video, with 7,500 HD titles to just 3,500 for Prime. Not included was Hulu, which, by our count, features more than 9,000 titles. These numbers can end up being a wash, depending on the type of content you prefer; Hulu, for example, streams more current-run TV episodes than anyone, making it a top choice for those wanting to catch up on recent television.
The ultimate verdict: Prime video is well-regarded for its playback quality — Tom’s Guide notes that it provides more 4K video than its competitors — but its content library is partial and ever-changing, as is the case with the competition.
Prime provides ad-free access to ‘over a million‘ songs, those from popular artists like Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Bruno Mars and Blake Shelton among them. But that pales in comparison to Spotify’s collection, which touts more than 30 million tunes and a social media utility that provides a seemingly endless amount of playlists. (More than 1.5 billion, by the company’s count.)
But as part of Amazon Prime’s full package, its library — and the Spotify Premium-like ability to download song and play them without an internet connection — can be a useful freebie to pull out at a party or on the road.
A (big) book library
It takes just a bit more time to go through a dozen books than it does a dozen songs. So if you’re a reader at all, casual or avid, it’s worth checking out a few of the hundreds of thousands of books Prime members can get for free through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Of course, you have to own a Kindle device to take advantage of the access, and Prime customers can only borrow one book a month. A massive selection is available elsewhere via catalogs like the Open Library, which is free.
Photographers have plenty of places to put their photos on the internet, filtered or #nofilter. The major social media apps, including Instagram, all provide some manner of organizing photo uploads, and utilities like Flickr resemble more of a traditional photo album on the web. It comes as no surprise that Amazon Prime provides such a service, too.
Prime’s cloud library provides unlimited storage, which always sounds impressive — yet Flickr’s limit of 1,000 gigabytes is still enough for more photos than most people would take in multiple lifetimes. (Google’s photo platform is another option.) There’s not a particular reason to use Prime more than any other application, but for the sake of streamlining or bundling your online activities, it’s a convenient way to stay organized with everything else you do on Prime.
The bottom line
Prime performs the functions of several different web services, some free and some not. As far as media goes — streaming video and music — it provides a fair amount of selection, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not Prime can ‘replace’ other apps like Netflix and Spotify. The book library and photo storage are added pluses that simply make Prime more all-encompassing, and depending on your usage, more useful.
Don’t forget that there are particular cost-saving deals for membership, as well. College students get six months of free access, and then pay just $49 for membership thereafter. Additionally, one Prime account can be shared among two adults and four children.