With its plethora of services — including video, e-books and the ability to buy almost anything — Amazon has created an annual membership program that offers free or discounted services across the board. Read on to find out whether Amazon Prime is worth it for you.
Q.: What is Amazon Prime?
A.: Amazon Prime is a paid service that gives Amazon shoppers a few distinct advantages. Members of Amazon Prime are eligible for free two-day shipping on any item, without a minimum-order balance. (Otherwise, free shipping requires a $35 minimum purchase). The service also gives members access to one free Kindle book to borrow (from a pool of about 350,000 selections) each month, lets them use the streaming video service Amazon Prime Instant Video and allows them to stream music via Amazon Prime Music.
Q.: How much does Amazon Prime cost?
A.: The membership fee for Amazon Prime is $99 per year, which includes the shipping benefits, the monthly Kindle book and the streaming video access. The savings on shipping alone could make the program worthwhile for frequent shoppers. And on the video side, Prime is about the same price as access to Netflix or Hulu Plus ($96 per year for each), but whereas Netflix and Hulu Plus are recurring $8 monthly costs, the $99 Prime one-year subscription needs to be paid up front. Users can also access certain shows on Hulu for free, but without access to full seasons or apps for game consoles or mobile devices. Users who purchase the Amazon Fire Phone will also get 12 free months of access to Amazon Prime.
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Q.: Which items get free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime?
A.: The vast majority of items that Amazon sells qualify for free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime. Oversized items, like treadmills and basketball hoops, get free standard shipping instead. However, items sold through third parties (via Amazon Marketplace) are ineligible for any kind of free shipping, unless the seller happens to offer it.
Q.: Which Kindle books are available to borrow?
A.: Amazon states that there are more than 350,000 books available in the Kindle's lending library, including more than 100 current New York Times best sellers. To see if a book you want to read qualifies, simply search for it on your Kindle device, Kindle app or the Amazon website, and see if the Prime logo appears next to it. If so, a Prime subscription lets you borrow it for one month. If not, you'll have to pay for it the old-fashioned way.
Q.: What is Amazon Prime Music?
A.: Amazon Prime Music is a streaming music service, similar to Spotify or Pandora. Users can choose albums or songs to stream, or allow Amazon to create a customized profile to suit their tastes and do it for them. At present, the service offers more than a million songs, but its selection still pales in comparison to those of Spotify and Pandora. Amazon Prime members can also download these songs and listen to them online (as long as their Prime membership remains active).
Q.: What is Amazon Prime Instant Video?
A.: Amazon Prime Instant Video is the streaming-video component of Amazon Prime. Like Netflix and Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime offers unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows. Unlike its two competitors, however, Amazon Prime also allows à la carte rentals and purchases of its content.
Q.: Can I use Amazon's streaming video services without an Amazon Prime subscription?
A.: Yes, but you will have to buy or rent each individual piece of content you want to watch. The prices on this content can vary dramatically, from $2 for individual TV episodes to $30 or more for entire seasons.
Q.: Will a Prime subscription give me access to every streaming video on Amazon?
A.: No. Amazon offers only certain TV shows and movies for unlimited streaming. When it comes to brand-new movies and recently broadcast episodes of TV shows, for example, you'll have to dish out money for each individual piece of media. Amazon marks its unlimited streaming shows and movies with a Prime graphic across the top of the box art; everything else is pay-as-you-go. Between the two categories, the service offers about 150,000 videos, of which about 40,000 are available for unlimited streaming with a Prime subscription (compared to Netflix's estimated 75,000).
Amazon Prime now hosts two original series: "Alpha House" (staring John Goodman) and "Betas," with more shows planned to debut next year.
Q.: Where can I watch Amazon Prime Instant Video?
A.: Amazon Prime Instant Video is available on PC, Mac and Linux computers, as well as all modern and last-gen game consoles. All iOS users can download an Amazon Prime app, but Android users are not so fortunate. The only Android devices that support Amazon Instant Video are Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablets, and the company has no current plans to change this policy. The service is available for Roku set-top boxes and most smart TVs, but not for Google Chromecast or Apple TV.
Q.: Is Amazon Prime Instant Video better than Netflix/Hulu Plus?
A.: The short answer is "no," but the longer answer depends on what you're looking for in a service. If you want the free two-day shipping and the free Kindle book, Amazon Prime's streaming video is a nice bonus. The unlimited streaming options are generally not as robust as those offered by Netflix and Hulu Plus, but the cheaper price and extra Prime features may make it worthwhile for Amazon fans — particularly those who own Kindle Fires.
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Q.: Why should I subscribe to Amazon Prime?
A.: If you make frequent purchases on Amazon — especially ones that don't meet the $35 minimum for free shipping — a Prime membership could be very advantageous. And for Kindle owners, the service just about pays for itself if you read one book per month. The streaming video is also worthwhile if you want a cheaper alternative to Netflix or Hulu Plus — especially if you want access to Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, etc.) shows, which are not available on the other two services.
Q.: Why shouldn't I subscribe to Amazon Prime?
A.: If you tend to make infrequent Amazon purchases that exceed $35, the service is probably not for you. Likewise, if you get your e-books from Barnes & Noble, Apple or Kobo, the free Kindle book will not benefit you much. If you already subscribe to Netflix or Hulu Plus, you have access to a wider selection of unlimited streaming video than what Amazon Prime offers.
Q.: How can I sign up for Amazon Prime?
A.: Visit Amazon Prime's Web page, and follow the instructions. You'll need a free Amazon account as well as a credit card.