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Amazon Prime: Still a good deal at $99?

Amazon continues to pile on the Prime perks, but are you really getting enough bang for your hundred bucks?


Remember Amazon Prime Day? Yeah, I've tried my best to forget it as well.

But that Christmas-in-July debacle hasn't tarnished my love of Amazon Prime, not one bit. The service has been back in the news this week with solid discounts on new videogame releases and a weekend deal on new Prime memberships.

I'm a bit surprised by the latter, because I suspect we'll soon see a bump in the subscription price. It was back in March, 2014, that the company raised the annual rate to $99 from $79, and since then Prime has only gotten better.

For example, Netflix-style streaming video has long been part of the Prime roster of services, but Netflix doesn't allow users to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing. Amazon offered that perk exclusively to Kindle Fire tablet owners, but last September it expanded the feature to allow Prime video downloads on other devices as well.

Meanwhile, last month Amazon roped in Showtime, Starz and other streaming services, allowing Prime subscribers to access more content and channels without the need for a traditional cable package. (Unlike with Prime-bundled HBO content, however, these add-on networks still require you to pay extra for individual subscriptions.)

Even with all this, one must stop and ask whether Prime is a good value. After all, it's still a $99 annual charge -- not a fortune, but not an impulse buy for most folks, either.

Prime equity

Truthfully, it's kind of an oddball assemblage of services, starting with arguably the best feature of all: Your $99 buys you free two-day shipping on virtually anything you order from Amazon, with no minimum. (Amazon's much slower Super-Saver Shipping is also free, but only if you spend at least $35.) Even more amazing, you can get free same-day shipping in a growing number of cities.

You also get unlimited streaming of music, movies and TV shows, and one borrowed e-book per month.

I can understand Amazon wanting to offer some kind of flat-rate shipping-upgrade option and compete with Netflix. But I find it weird that the company lumps those things together.

I also find it awesome. Because, separately, those two elements might be less appealing. Together, they do a great job of bridging left-brain practicality (fast shipping!) with right-brain satisfaction ("The Man in the High Castle" binge!).

My time with Prime

I've been a Prime subscriber for over three years, and I'll just come right out and say it: It has changed the way I shop. The promise of two-day delivery, with no minimum order, drives me to Amazon for a majority of my online purchases. Recently I was looking for some motion-activated LEDs, a product that would normally send me to a big, crowded home store where I'd find just a few options -- and no way to gauge the quality of any of them.

With Amazon, I found a huge assortment, plenty of crowd-sourced reviews and discount pricing. Plus, I didn't have to go out; I just had to wait two days.

As for Prime Instant Video, what was once a Netflix also-ran is now a watch-your-back-Netflix competitor. Yes, Amazon's TV/movie library still feels smaller, but it's also home to some highly desirable content you can't get on Netflix. Examples: "Downton Abbey," "Orphan Black," "The Americans" and a wealth of HBO stuff.

Amazon Prime offers some exclusive and original series you won't find on Netflix.
Amazon Prime offers some exclusive and original series you won't find on Netflix. Amazon

Oh, and let's not forget original content. Amazon is home to Emmy/Golden Globe winners like "Mozart in the Jungle" and "Transparent," shows not available on Netflix. (On the flipside, of course, Netflix originals like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" aren't available on Amazon.)

Subprime books and music

Prime Music is a fairly recent addition, offering unlimited ad-free streaming -- but from a relatively modest library. Indeed, it's no substitute for the likes of Apple Music or Spotify, offering a fraction of the on-demand selection.

That said, I've enjoyed a number of Amazon's curated Prime Playlists, and although I can't always find everything I want to hear, I often find enough -- to the point where I haven't bothered signing up for a separate music service. Read more about Prime Music's biggest challenge in the marketplace.

The Lending Library continues to be Prime's biggest disappointment, the red-headed stepchild in this family of otherwise great services. Nothing about it has changed: You get to check out just one book per month, the selection remains extremely limited and it's still kind of hassle to browse the catalog -- almost to the extent that you feel like Amazon hopes you won't bother.

Amazon's Lending Library: Same old, same old.
Amazon's Lending Library: Same old, same old. Amazon

I won't say this is a make-or-break feature of the Prime service, but at this point I feel like Amazon should either expand it or ditch it. Right now the Lending Library feels a little insulting, as every time I peruse it in search of something to read, I find the same tired collection.

Amazon does offer an olive branch in the form of Kindle First, which lets you choose from one of six editor's-choice new books each month. I've rarely found much of interest in these selections, but at least they're yours-to-keep freebies.

Still a sweet deal

Books or no books, Amazon Prime remains an enticing service, even at $99. The shipping aspect alone feels like a huge win, and for a TV junkie like me, the streaming library definitely justifies the price. Speaking of which, remember to compare apples to apples: Netflix costs $95.88 per year and doesn't give you e-books, two-day shipping, or offline viewing. Just saying.

Me, I'll be keeping both for the time being. Your thoughts?