Pando

Even with unlimited photo storage, Amazon Prime may still lose the streaming media wars

By David Holmes , written on November 4, 2014

From The News Desk

On the surface, the reasons not to join Amazon Prime are quickly approaching zero.

In addition to offering unlimited two-day shipping, plus a streaming library of 40,000 movies and TV shows and over a million songs, Amazon Prime is the best value in tech. It only costs $100 a year (or $8.33 a month) which is less than Spotify ($9.99 a month) and only slightly pricier than Netflix ($7.99 a month), despite offering similar services to both.

And today we learned that Amazon isn't content to take on Netflix, Spotify, and the post office. It also wants to gun for Dropbox's business, offering unlimited photo storage as part of its Prime package. Dropbox and Google Drive, by contrast, cost $9.99 a month and storage is capped at a terabyte of data.

So is now the time to cancel Netflix, Dropbox, and Spotify and hop on the Amazon Prime train?

Not necessarily.

First off, Prime Music is no Spotify. Not even close. Spotify has 20 million songs while Amazon claims to have "over a million." That's only 5 percent of Spotify's catalog. And it's not just obscure deep cuts that are missing from Prime Music. If you look at Metacritic's highest-rated new releases, many of them are available on Spotify but not Prime, including Aphex Twin's "Syro," Run the Jewels' "RTJ2," Flying Lotus' "You're Dead," and FKA Twigs' "LP1." No serious music consumer can legitimately use Prime as a replacement for Spotify.

What about its movie and TV offerings? Here, the comparison to Netflix is a little closer. Most estimate that Netflix's catalog of instantly streamable videos is larger than Amazon's, though I doubt the disparity is as large as it is with Spotify and Prime Music. Furthermore, Amazon recently struck a multi-year deal to feature the vast majority of HBO's library, which Netflix does not have (though now that HBO plans its own stand-alone service, the future of that deal may be in question). Netflix's original programming, which includes critical and popular hits like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," plus cult favorites like "Bojack Horseman" and "Hemlock Grove," is definitely ahead of Amazon's. That said, with the great "Transparent," Amazon just released the best series ever made by a tech company.

And then there's the new unlimited photo storage. For professional photographers or serious photography enthusiasts, this is a no-brainer. It even supports virtually any type of file including uncompressed RAW files. But for other files, including videos, free storage is capped at 5 GB. Users can pay for extra storage, but for big quantities, Dropbox is still a better deal, costing around $120 a year versus $500 a year.

So yes, you get a lot for your $99 a year. For some customers, the free two-day shipping pays for itself. But don't call Amazon Prime a Spotify-killer, a Dropbox-killer, or even a Netflix-killer (maybe someday). Instead, it's more like the AOL of the early Internet, which offered a decent news homepage, some decent games, and a solid Instant Messenger - but none of these products were best in class. The portal made sense for more casual users. And indeed, I recently bought an Amazon Prime membership for my parents. But over time, as consumers became more comfortable with the kinds of services AOL offered, they wanted more.

Maybe Amazon's music catalog will improve over time. Maybe it's original content offerings will reach the heights of Netflix's. But until then, I'm not canceling Spotify orNetflix anytime soon.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]