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Amazon offers stand-alone video, month-to-month Prime subscriptions

Associated Press

April 18, 2016 


SEATTLE ó Amazon.com is adding some a la carte options to its $99-a-year Prime all-you-can-eat buffet.

In what it says is a response to customer cries for more flexibility and a cheaper entryway into the companyís perks-loaded shopping enclosure, Amazon on Sunday launched a video-only subscription for $9 a month, an invitation to binge-watch series like "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle."

It also deployed a monthly $11 subscription that comes with all the Prime perks, including special shipping benefits, a music-streaming service and cloud photo storage, plus the video. (Amazon recently launched a similar package for Sprint customers.)

Neither of these requires an annual commitment nor the upfront $99 fee of the traditional Prime membership, which in the long run remains a cheaper offer.

Prime membership has reached more than half of U.S. households and more than 70 percent of high-income households, according to analysts with Piper Jaffray. This latest move seems to indicate the Seattle tech and retail behemoth is reaching out to those who balk at what they still consider a big annual fee.

Amazon hasnít disclosed the number of Prime subscribers, except to say that itís in the "tens of millions."

The video streaming-only option is an acknowledgment of the success attained by Amazonís content production and acquisition machine, into which the company sank more than $1 billion in 2014 and which has yielded critical successes such as "Transparent," an award-winning transgender family drama.

Itís certainly a gauntlet thrown at the feet of Hulu and Netflix, competing streaming services that are also accessed through month-to-month subscriptions and now must face the possibility that Amazon Prime Video is becoming more than a sideshow to Amazonís online store ó or, at least, a dangerous sideshow.

Itís always been Amazonís intention to use video content as a hook to draw in recruits to its Prime ecosystem and turn them into loyal patrons of the online site.

What the latest stand-alone video offer does is make it easier for new customers interested mostly in the video offerings to get in the door. It also highlights how, for a couple more bucks a month, they can have other perks ó including unlimited shipping and streaming music. And both monthly options make the $99 annual membership seem like a steal.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calls Prime ó which draws in billions of dollars in revenue from membership fees per year ó one of the three "big pillars" of the company, an "all-you-can eat, physical-digital hybrid that members love."

"We want Prime to be such a good value, youíd be irresponsible not to be a member," Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders.