Is Amazon Prime Worth The Cost?

December 16, 2011

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For those of you that do not know what Amazon Prime is, let me tell you. To be honest, I had no idea what it was until about somewhere around a year ago. At a cost of $79 per year (or $6.58/month for you math junkies), Amazon Prime members enjoy “free 2 day shipping, instant streaming of movies and TV shows, and instant access to thousands of Kindle books”. It truly is what it says, too. As a member I have not noticed any hidden “catches”. The 2 day shipping? It’s really true. In fact, in many cases, you get the package(s) that you ordered the next day. Now, don’t quote me on that because I don’t want any angry readers! But I can’t recall a time where a package did not come within the 2 days, unless the item was on backorder, unavailable, etc.

Free 2 Day Shipping

One of the main reasons we opted to join the Amazon Prime club….for those of you that are frequent Amazon shoppers, you know that to avoid shipping costs your order has to be from Amazon itself (not one of the “sellers” that just sell on Amazon) and also has to be $25.00 or more. In many instances, we found ourselves filling orders to meet the $25.00 requirement and avoid shipping. Why not just pay the shipping? Well, if I’m going to have to pay the extra either way I’d rather actually get something for the extra money, right? Yes, I’m right! So, since joining Amazon Prime, I can’t even imagine how much money we’ve saved from filling orders with stuff that we really weren’t intending to buy. Maybe not a TRUE benefit of the program, but definitely very helpful.

Another very minor (or major, depends on what you think) benefit…..if you’re like me at all, it’s kind of nice to be able to order something and get it within a couple of days, versus waiting 5/7/10 days to receive it. Again, minor, but the somewhat instant gratification of receiving what I ordered that quickly is nice.

For those of you that are rushing out now to join Amazon Prime, be careful. Only products that are Amazon Prime eligible will qualify for the free 2 day shipping. That being said (because I have to say it), in the past several months since joining Amazon Prime I have yet to come across an item that I wanted to order and it was NOT “Prime” eligible. So don’t let that stop you from joining. In fact, they have a free one month trial of the program. We did it, and that’s what got us hooked. It’s a way to verify that everything I’m telling you is in fact true.

Free Video Streaming

I spent a lot of words on the shipping aspect alone, because that is the greatest benefit for me. They do have unlimited instant videos and movies. This is secondary to me because the movie selection is nothing like what you’d find on Netflix or in the video store – it’s just a subset of the entire Amazon Instant Video collection.

The streaming includes a lot of older movies, but nothing of the new release nature. They also include a decent selection of TV shows, but again, nothing that is extremely new.  One thing I’ve noticed is that they include the first few seasons of a show, but not the later seasons.  It seems like they’re trying to get you hooked on a show, then charge you to get the later seasons – a pretty smart strategy.

The movie/show playback and video quality is good … not great, but not horrible either.  You do need a compatible device in order for the streaming to work.  You can read more details about the program here.

I just don’t see the movies/shows library as the main reason for somebody to join.  Nonetheless, it’s a nice bonus if you were going to join Prime anyway.

Borrow Kindle Books for Free

Amazon recently added a Prime feature that benefits Kindle owners.  You can borrow one book per month from the Amazon Owners’ Lending Library for free.  This is similar to the feature of being able to borrow books from your local library, except that there’s no due date.  You can keep a book for a year if you want … but you can only check out one book at a time (and a maximum of one per month), so you can’t borrow another one until you return the one you have borrowed.

The lending library is a subset of the entire Kindle eBook collection, but just on the teaser page, I see recognizable names such as Michael Lewis, Suzanne Collins, and Stephen Covey.  Don’t worry – the authors (and publishers) are being paid.  Amazon is creating a pool of money each month, and this will be split based on how many times a book is borrowed.  If The Cell Window is borrowed as often as Moneyball, Kosmo will get as much money as Michael Lewis (and his publisher).

Like streaming, it’s probably not worth it to join Prime just to take advantage of the ability to borrow Kindle books – but it’s a nice added feature.

Worth the cost?

So, is Amazon Prime worth the $79/year? Yes, it definitely is. But, to prove that to yourself, join the club for a month for free and see for yourself. You’ll be happy you did.

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Will Amazon Reinstate California Affiliates?

September 9, 2011

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On Thursday, Amazon was given a one year reprieve from collecting sales tax by the state of California. During this year, Amazon will likely lobby California legislators in an attempt to make them, and other internet-based vendors, exempt from the duty of collecting sales tax.

Historically, only in-state sellers have been responsible for collecting and submitting sales tax. If a California resident drives to Oregon and buys a big screen TV, the Best Buy in Oregon does not collect California sales tax on the TV (and since Oregon has no sales tax, this means that no state received sales tax revenue from the sale). Of course, residents of states that have a sales tax are required by law to file a use tax form on which they list out of state purchases and pay taxes on those items. However, this is widely ignored, and a large chunk of the population is completely unaware of this requirement.  You would think states would make an effort to education people, but I haven’t seen evidence of this occurring.

The core question, really, is whether Amazon is like the Oregon Best Buy (which is not required to collect California sales tax) or like a California Best Buy (which is required to collect California sales tax). The California brick and mortar stores say that Amazon should be treated the same as they are – but Amazon could just as easily say that they (as an out of state internet retailer) should be treated the same as an out of state brick and mortar retailer.

In recent years, a number of states have passed – or strengthened – legislation defining the meaning of a business nexus. In California, affiliate programs such as the Amazon Associates program are deemed to be a business nexus, which would trigger the requirement to collect sales tax. Personally, I think this constitutes a pretty weak business nexus, as the associates are clearly independent contractors rather than people who are captive to Amazon.com.

(For those of you who don’t know what the Amazon Associates program is, it’s a system that allows people to earn a commission on Amazon sales by linking to Amazon on their web sites. The links contain a special code that allows Amazon to determine the source and credit the correct account. Look around The Soap Boxers and you’ll see a few of these.)

When California’s new law went into effect on July 1, Amazon immediately terminated agreements with thousands of Amazon Associates. No Amazon Associates meant no business nexus in California. Now that Amazon has a one year reprieve, will they immediately reinstate their affiliates?  There has been no word yet. Here are some reasons why they might not.

  • If Amazon wants to continue to lobby for an exemption to collecting sales tax, they will want to minimize the perceived important of the Associates program. Rushing to reinstate the Associates will make it appear as if the Associates are a critical aspect of Amazon’s business – a bona fide nexus. Thus, they may choose to exhaust their lobbying efforts before reinstating affiliates.
  • Amazon has retained mathe heavy hitters. There were some people making thousands of dollars per month from the Amazon Associates program. Many of these people set up shop in a neighboring state when Calfornia’s law went into effect (which had the effect of taking income tax money away from the state of California).
  • While many people switched to a different affiliates program when Amazon drop the Associates program, many simply left the old links in place. In some cases, links were sprinkled across hundreds or thousands of pages on a web site, and there was the perception that it would take too much effort to make a change. These links are golden to Amazon – they are still directing traffic to Amazon, but Amazon isn’t paying a commission on the links.

If you’re in California or one of the other states in which Amazon has dropped the Associates program (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Connecticut), there are some options available to you. Some are complex (setting up a corporation in another state) while others are not.

One option is to work with me. I can manage the Amazon relationship for you and you can be back up and running within a day. Contact me for more details at Kosmo@ObservingCasually.com

Amazon, Sports, Chili, and Bruised Shins

February 24, 2011

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No one thing is grabbing my interest today, so I’ll talk about a lot of stuff.

First of all, the shin is not broken.  The x-rays confirmed it.  Good news, although a deep bone bruise isn’t much fun, either.

A revised version of the Kindle edition of Mountains, Meadows, and Chasms has been released.  I fixed a few small issues that had crept into the book during the Amazon conversion process, and also added the cover art and a clickable table of contents.  I will likely be revising the cover art in the next few days, at which point I’m not going to make any more changes (unless someone finds a serious problem).  If you want to give it a test drive, try the absolutely free “send a sample” functionality.  You’ll get about 10% of the book, at no cost to you.  If you like it, you can buy later.  Buyers can also lend the book to their friends for 14 days, free of charge to the friend.

Don’t have a Kindle?  You can buy one on Amazon for as little as $139 (or as much as $379) or download the Kindle viewer for your Mac, PC, Droid, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, or Windows 7 phone (download a viewer here).  Personally, I still prefer paper and ink to e-readers … but it’s pretty cool that you can download free Kindle version of classics.  I paid about $50 for my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare when I took English 370 back in the mid 90s (it will set you back almost $90 these days) – you can nab a Kindle version of the complete works of the bard for $2.99 (there are also free versions, but the $2.99 version has good reviews).  For fans of works that are in the public domain, e-readers could be great.  I’ll be covering the whole Kindle authoring experience in another place and time (on another site, in other words).  More details later.

Sadly, there won’t be a print edition at this point.  If I were to use Amazon’s print-on-demand service (CreateSpace), I’d have to set the price in the $15-$20 range (for a paperback) in order th make the same profit I make on the Kindle edition.  That seems too high for a new author.  if you want the non-Kindle format, you can buy it from my store in PDF format (also just $3.49).  You can probably print a copy for less than I’d have to charge for a print edition, if you really want the book on paper.

In the world of sports:

Bryce Harper says that he’s trying to make the Nationals team in Spring Training.  That’s a nice thought, but it’s not going to happen.  Even if the Nats thought the 18 year old was ready, they’re not going to start his free agent clock ticking yet – delaying a call-up until June would keep him under their control for another year.  I really doubt that he gets more than a token call-up this year, though. As good as Harper is, I’m sure there is a lot he needs to learn about the game, especially as he moves to a new defensive position (outfielder).

Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals are holding their breath for news about co-ace Adam Wainwright, who injured his elbow.  While nobody is yet saying that Wainwright is done for the year, GM John Mozeliak said “things do not look encouraging.”  Most often, you’re going to see a GM make a neutral statement when there is a degree of uncertainty about an injury – seeing a negative comments makes me very concerned.

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 last weekend, while Tony Stewart won the Nationwide Series race.  Interesting, neither racer is the points leader.  A new NASCAR rule this year allows drivers to pick up points in just one series.  You can still win races (and money) in any series, but only contend for the title in one series.  The main reason for this was drivers from the top level Sprint Cup dropping down the Nationwide and winning titles.  Even with the change, you’re going to see the stars run Nationwide races – because it gives them more experience with live competition and allows them to gain familiarity with the track.  Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill pushed Stewart to victory in the Nationwide race.  He finished 3rd in the race and is atop the points race.

In the world of food:

I’m in search of the best canned chili.  I love chili, but it has to be in a relatively thin band of the broad chili spectrum.  Surprisingly, Campbell’s Roadhouse Chili is pretty good (and, oddly, you can buy it on Amazon).  I’m planning to try about a dozen differnt types of chili in my quest to crown a king.