An Amazon Prime report card: Is it really worth $79 per year?

After a year of using the service, I'm on the fence about renewing. Here's why.

Amazon Prime: Deal or no deal at $79 annually?
Amazon Prime: Deal or no deal at $79 annually? Amazon

I've been an Amazon Prime customer for nearly a year now, meaning it's time for me to decide whether to continue subscribing to the program.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, Prime works like this: For $79 annually, you get unlimited movie and TV streaming, one free borrowed e-book per month, and automatic two-day shipping on nearly everything you buy (with no minimum dollar amount).

Awesome deal, right? Maybe, and maybe not.

Let's start with the streaming. Amazon has vastly expanded its movie- and TV-show libraries over the past year, to the point where I'd say it's much more competitive with Netflix. However, not everything I found on the latter was available on Amazon Prime. "The Walking Dead" and "Top Gun," for example, will cost you extra.

That said, there's plenty of good stuff to watch, and Prime streaming has expanded to more devices -- including, most recently, the iPhone and iPod Touch . (It was already available for iPad .) But Android users are still out of luck, and even some brand-new media streamers (the Western Digital TV Play , for one) lack an Amazon Instant channel. When it comes to ubiquity, Netflix still rules.

Indeed, I'd say that if you're already a Netflix subscriber, there's no reason to join up with Amazon Prime -- at least if you're motivated solely by streaming.

Okay, but what about the book deal? Although the Prime Lending Library now includes over 280,000 titles, including the Harry Potter series, they're mostly older and/or indie reads. I think in my year of Prime membership, I've found exactly one book I wanted to borrow. And Amazon still makes it a pain to browse the catalog, especially on your PC.

So as much as I like the e-book loans in principle, in practice they're of little value.

Finally, let's talk shipping. Two-day delivery, with no minimum purchase, is the best thing ever. I buy a lot of stuff online, especially around the holidays, and Prime makes this kind of shopping pure pleasure. Not only does it rescue me when I'm late to procure a gift, it also makes impulse shopping a lot more fun. (Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe that's a bad thing.)

But is that really worth $79? Surely I could shop less, wait longer, and place orders only when I have enough goods ($25' worth) to qualify for free Super Saver shipping.

So there's my dilemma. As a Netflix subscriber, I just don't need Amazon Prime streaming. As a reader of mostly modern fiction, I rarely take advantage of the anemic Kindle Lending Library. And as a shopper, well, I certainly do love the free two-day shipping.

On the flipside, I could ditch Netflix, pocket that $7.99 per month, and more than cover my Prime subscription. But not until I've had a chance to see the upcoming new season of "Arrested Development." (Smart move, Netflix, smart move.)

What are your thoughts on this? Are you a Prime subscriber? If so, are you taking full advantage of the service? And do you think you'll renew when the time comes?

 

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