Thursday, December 27, 2018

Amazon Prime Isn't Worth It.

Spending $13 a month for free shipping (when you get free shipping anyway) and for crappy streaming videos, simply isn't worth it.

We signed up for Amazon Prime as a test.   To their credit, they make it easy to sign up, and easy to quit, too.  As a negative option subscription service, they at least pass the smell test.

But was the service worth it?  I cancelled my 30-day free trial, and here's why.

First of all is the vaunted free shipping and better customer service. This is kind of an interesting argument for them to make as their customer service is very good and should be good, if they want to keep customers. You shouldn't have to pay a monthly fee to get better service. Second, the shipping usually is free anyway and is fairly quick. I've ordered things on a Monday and have them arrive by Wednesday, even without their vaunted Prime shipping service. And usually this is with standard free shipping as well.

So I am not seeing any big difference in buying stuff on Amazon as an ordinary consumer or as a Prime member.  It takes just about as long for things to arrive, and the price of shipping is about the same either way.  Even if I have to pay for shipping, the amount of things I buy on Amazon really doesn't justify the $12 a month cost. I might buy one or two things on Amazon every month and usually get free shipping by default.  In the other cases of shipping is usually less than the $12.95 a month cost of Amazon Prime.

Unlike most folks today, I just don't buy that much stuff on Amazon.   Amazon used to be a source of cheap goods, but today, they are about the highest priced store on the Internet - in most cases.  You want cheap stuff from China?  eBay is the place to look - but expect to wait a week or two for "China Post" to deliver the goods.   Other things, well, there are specialty shops online (such as for car parts) or Mom & Pop retailers who manage to undercut Amazon's vaunted "low prices".   Amazon today relies on the laziness of its customers - many of whom are making high salaries and still living paycheck-to-paycheck - rather than on low prices.  The purchase of Whole Foods was a telling move of where Amazon was going with its services - upscale.   Amazon is great for suburbanites and city dwellers all working tech jobs, who are "too busy" to shop and want to order with one click.   The rest of us can take ten minutes to search the internet and find better prices - often far better.

But Amazon is quick to point out there other benefits of being a Prime member. And one of these is access to Amazon's Prime television streaming service. It seems like everybody's getting into streaming these days, and they all want about 5-10 bucks a month or more from you. YouTube is still free, although there's a lot of advertisements. They keep bugging me to send them $12.95 a month to join premium YouTube, which would allow me to actually download videos from their site.

The problem, as many people have noted, is that if you sign up for every single streaming service out there, you end up spending more money than you would for cable television or at least a significant amount of money.  Netflix is still an inexpensive $7.99 a month but the glory days of that service are far behind it.

Years ago, we first started streaming over Netflix onto a laptop which we plugged into our television with a VGA port.  We could access the entire Starz Network library, which included a host of classic films. We basically had a film school education watching all the auteurs from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.  Today, the television itself has all of this built-in, of course.

The movie studios, sensing that somehow they were not making money in this model, pulled back. The Starz contract expired and Netflix had to search for new content.  Most of this new content is stuff they created themselves.  In some instances this has resulted in some excellent programming. But like all television programming, it gets repetitive and boring after a while.  Instead of full-length movies, more and more of the Netflix content is episodic television - basically a bunch of glorified soap operas.

The idea is, you become attached to the characters in the stories and then "binge-watch" the series all at once because you can't get enough of it. This is more of an addiction model than an entertainment model - and addiction is something I resent, particular when thrust upon me.

(One alternative to signing up for multiple services, which we are exploring, is to sign up for one service one month and then sign up for different service the next month. Netflix makes it pretty easy to sign up for Netflix and then cancel service. Once you've been through all the stuff they have on Netflix, which doesn't take long, you can then cancel the service and sign up for Hulu and explore their library of content. After a month of Hulu, perhaps you can try YouTube Premium. This way, the overall cost you is only 5 to $10 a month as supposed to $50 to $100 a month you'd pay if you signed up for every single service out there at once.)

There are two other problems with this TV show streaming model. First, a lot of the shows just basically suck. Like regular network television, it's hard to hit the ball out of the park every time. As a result, there a lot of Netflix television series that I simply do not want to watch. And again, mostly because they were just dramatic soap operas with characters coming and going and doing dramatic things every week and no real plot being advanced and no real storylines.

You know you're talking about a soap opera when they wipe out an entire season as being a "dream sequence" in order to move the storyline in a different direction. And yes, The Sopranos did  this on HBO, which is why it, too, was nothing more than a glorified soap opera.

The other problem with this episodic television model is that eventually all television shows fail. As I noted in a very early posting, the first three seasons of any show are fairly decent but by season four, they start to fall apart. The producers will try to cheapen the content of the show and jettison actors who asked for more money. They start jettisoning writers as well, and then recycle old plots. The jokes become weaker and more repetitive. We saw this with MASH, which sort of just started repeating itself after the first three seasons -  and went on for more than a decade doing this. People kept tuning in, though, because they were comfortable with the characters - the television version of comfort food.

Getting back to Amazon, their particular streaming channel really sucks. Amazon has original content on their site and one or two of the series have been reviewed on NPR and in other places. But I didn't really find them that entertaining, and the rest of their original content was also pretty poor. Again, it's the same old soap opera kind of stuff that just never goes anywhere.

Netflix, like Amazon, doesn't have a lot of content.  When you first log on, it appears there are many shows to watch, but then you realize that many of the shows are listed under numerous categories. The same program might be listed as a comedy, drama, documentary, and God-knows-what-else.  This way, Netflix can pad their content to make it seem like they have more than they actually do.

The Amazon streaming site is even worse. They show a lot of content - but if you actually click on some of the content, it's just an invitation to subscribe to yet another streaming service. So you get "free" service for $12.95 a month if you're an Amazon Prime member, but this free service is just an invitation to buy other services through Amazon Prime.

I'm finding as I get older that consuming less media content is really the best option of all.  I was at a friend's house the other day, and they had an enormous television playing the Bush Funeral.  I glanced at it for a while, and eventually they turned the sound off, and the "talking lamp" stood in the corner, mutely reporting the proceedings.  I'm not sure my life was enhanced by seeing 15 minutes of Bush's funeral.  I'm not sure I really needed to see any of it.

And that goes for most of the "news" or indeed most of this content that is on television or streaming these days.  Sitting in the chair, inactive, is probably the worst thing for the human body.  And the average American does it for four and a half hours every day.  Four and a half hours of your brain being programmed by poor normative cues.

Anyway my 30-day trial of Amazon Prime came to an end and I went online and discontinued my membership.  At least Amazon is straight with people, and allows them to discontinue their Prime Membership with the click of a mouse - the way things should be.  I had previously signed up before we left for Alaska and then immediately cancelled the membership, as I realized that we would be out of the country for the next few months. There's no point in paying $12.95 a month for service you can't even use.

But that $12.95 a month, that's pure profit for Amazon.