Amazon's Prime service began as a way to get your books and deodorant shipped to your door faster. Which was nice. Now, it's turned into a cornucopia of digital everything: movies, TV, books.
And as it's grown, it's turned into something else: the smartest digital ticket around.
Amazon's decision to give out free loaner Kindle books solidifies something we've been mulling over: Prime is a killer deal. The killer deal. Of course, this isn't a sale or some font of generosity: Amazon is a business. It's out to get as much of your money as possible just like everyone else, and Prime is highly addictive crack for impulse shoppers. But now that Amazon has so many of us hooked, it's going after more than just our deliveries—Bezos & Co are hoping to knock out some competitors too: Apple. Netflix. The reigning champs. Luckily, we can welcome these pushers to our street corner. Their war is our gain. Let's take a second to reflect on what you get for 80 clams a year:
First, and most simply, Amazon Prime opens up the giant internet warehouse and pours it into your house. Pliers, socks, Blu-rays, speakers, lightbulbs, a new TV—Amazon is the internet's Wal-Mart. Minus, you know, a Wal-Mart. Pretty much everything you can imagine is offered, and Prime makes it reasonable to do a substantial amount of your shopping that way with unlimited free two-day shipping. Need it overnight? Pay just four bucks. Prime's shipping component is a very small revolution, obviating the need to leave your home for trivial buys. No more big box, no more pharmacy, no more Best Buy ripoffs—consolidated commodities, clicks away. Caveat: inflated carbon footprint guilt.
But the shipping is the old news. Amazon's clearly up to a lot more, turning Prime into a diverse media membership. With the same service, you get access to instantly streaming seasons of shows like 24, Arrested Development, and Lost, plus movies you'll actually want to watch, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Tons of PBS action too, so you can roll your eyes at people and say "Um, I think I'd know, I stream PBS."
All this video is baked into a ton of TV models, plus the excellent Roku line. And your computer, of course. That said, Netflix still has its library whipped. Amazon's free-with-Prime Instant Video offerings just don't have as much good stuff to watch, period. It's competes, but barely. Still, Amazon is constantly expanding its catalog, injecting itself with big names like Fox and PBS. It's not enough to snatch the crown, but it's momentum.
And then there are the books. Remember those? Of course you do, because you have a Kindle and books are suddenly exciting again. And now that Amazon will lend you books for free, you don't have to worry about buyer's remorse hampering your curiosity about your chances of bedding Chelsea Handler. Yep, every month you'll get a gratis Kindle loaner from a selection of over 5,000 titles. Keep it for as long as you want. Just don't expect the best and the brightest—none of the six major publishing houses are getting in on the loaner book program. Yet. Amazon can be miiiighty persuasive.
Still—free fast shipping, unlimited streaming, and free books is a lot of stuff for $80 a year ($40 if you're a student). Is it enough? Think of it this way: Netflix—streaming-only—is $8 a month. Let's say the cost of a new book every month is $7. How about buying with expedited shipping? That's usually around $8. Add that up, and you're spending $276 per year on the low end. Prime's got you covered for a lot less.
And this is about a lot more than just buying shit. All signs point to Amazon using Prime as its warm media spigot in perpetuity, feeding hungry devices like the Kindle Fire, and wrapping you into—as much as I fucking hate this word—its own ecosystem. It might be premature now, but Apple has its iTunes, and Amazon will have its Prime. And Amazon wants to lock you in just as badly as Apple does.
So weigh your options. By volume, Amazon's the winner—you simply can't get as much stuff, whether physical or megabyte, anywhere else with one subscription. Prime is lacking, yes. In some places, pretty glaringly. But Prime isn't Amazon's bonus side project—it's the future of the company, its ramrod. It's going to get better, because it has to. Prime's a great deal now, but given time, it could be the way you happily eat up everything online.