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Forget the new video-only plan: Why the 'real' Amazon Prime is still the best deal ever

Commentary: Amazon now lets you get its Prime video service for $8.99 per month. But for anyone who buys any physical goods on Amazon, it's a bad deal compared to the full Amazon Prime package.

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In the history of no-brainers, spending the extra $2 per month to get full Amazon Prime ranks up there with quitting smoking to get healthier.

No question you should do it.

If you want to subscribe to Amazon video on a monthly basis as opposed to yearly, Amazon's two new options -- a new video-only version for $8.99 per month and another that adds Prime's myriad benefits for $10.99 per month--might be tempting. But the more "expensive" one is a much better deal.

Previously, the only way to watch Amazon's considerable selection of original series like "Mozart in the Jungle," "Catastrophe," "Transparent" and "The Man in the High Castle," as well as unlimited streaming of thousands of Prime TV shows and movies, was to pay a yearly membership of $99. And that yearly fee included all of Amazon's other Prime benefits, such as free two-day shipping on physical orders.

Amazon's video services are great, and in fact it's my second-favorite after Netflix. But for most people I know, including my family, it's not nearly as "must-have" as Netflix, which starts at $8 per month, although its most popular plan is now $10. Netflix has more original series, and they're generally more popular than Amazon's. According to a recent survey by Morgan Stanley, Netflix even beat out HBO when respondents were asked "Who has the best original content?" Amazon was a distant third, around the same as Showtime and Hulu.

Optimal Prime: What an extra $2 per month buys on Amazon

If you care at all about anything beyond Amazon's Prime video catalog, you might be considering paying the extra $2 for full membership. Here's a chart to help you decide.

Amazon's new monthly subscriptions

$9 per month (video only) $11 per month
Unlimited streaming of Prime video Yes Yes
Free two-day shipping No Yes
Free same-day shipping to certain zip codes No Yes
Unlimited streaming of Prime music No Yes
Unlimited photo storage No Yes
Kindle owners' lending library No Yes
Prime Now delivery No Yes
Other Prime benefits No Yes

In sum, the $9 plan is video-only. That means you won't get access to the free shipping, Amazon Music or any of the other benefits. See Amazon's full list of benefits here.

If you buy stuff at Amazon on a regular basis, free two-day shipping will almost certainly pay for itself immediately. The other shipping options are icing on the cake, and Amazon offers numerous exclusives, discounts and benefits to encourage Prime members to spend even more.

So what if you never buy products from Amazon? First off, do you even exist? If so, you deserve some kind of medal for sheer resistance to current shopping trends. And you're probably reading this article in cuneiform on a clay tablet .

Second, you might well be tempted by the other stuff Amazon throws in, including a burgeoning music service, photo storage and a Kindle e-book library where you can "borrow" from among thousands of e-books for free.

Just a few more reasons to go Full Prime.

Sarah Tew/CNET


The best reason I can think of to go video-only is as a sort of willpower augmentation. Prime shipping is so good, and so tempting, that not having it available means you might not buy frivolous stuff, or neglect to perform thorough price comparisons, just because shipping is free and oh-so-convenient.

Original Prime: The best deal at $99 per year

OK, sure: Maybe the video plan will appeal to people who already did Amazon's free 30-day trial and want to binge on original series and then cancel. Or pop in and out every few months, when Amazon posts full seasons of specific favorite shows they like.

And, likewise, I could see occasional Amazon shoppers going for the monthly full Prime package for one or two months a year -- say, November and December -- to get the free shipping specifically for those Christmas and Hanukkah gifts.

As for me, I'm sticking with the full yearly Prime membership, which remains available at $99 per year, and is the best value of all. That one includes all of the benefits listed above for $9 less than the yearly cost of the month-to-month video-only package, and $33 less than the yearly cost of the month-to-month full Prime plan.

To me, that's the best value of all.