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What is Amazon Prime, and Why It Matters to You as a Kindle Owner

By Stephen Windwalker
Posted November 5, 2011

We’ve been planning for a while to devote some serious space to introducing (or re-introducing) you to a nifty little Amazon program called Amazon Prime and how it can help you get the most out of your Kindle, and this week’s events elevated that plan to the level of top priority.

One of the things about which I constantly have to remind myself — especially when I am writing for the citizens of Kindle Nation — is that a lot of things that may be clear to me about Amazon and how it works may be worth some additional explaining for others. And, of course, on some things, I may just arrive at different conclusions than those at which many of our loyal, highly valued readers arrive. That, as they say, is what makes a horse race.

After all, I’ve been a very active Amazon customer for the past fifteen years, an Amazon Prime member since 2006, a Kindle owner since the Kindle first launched, and a participant in Amazon Marketplace, zShops, Amazon Advantage, and the Kindle and CreateSpace digital publishing platforms. When it comes to Amazon, I’ve been to night school.

Amazon Prime
Prime: It Keeps Getting Better

So, after five years of saving tons of money on free shipping (along with millions of other Amazon Prime members), I was pleased several months ago when Amazon began offering me — for the same $79 a year — a free “Prime Instant Video” library of thousands of movies of TV shows. And Thursday I was thrilled to learn of a new program where that same $79 would allow me one free download each month from among over 5,000 Kindle ebook titles including many current or former bestsellers and plenty of books priced at $9 or $10 and above.

But when Amazon issued a middle-of-the-night press release and reorganized much of its Kindle ebook database to launch its new Kindle Owners’ Lending Library program, there were plenty of Kindle owners who were not thrilled. For some people this was due to the fact that several websites including our own experienced a glitch for a few hours when titles from the new program were commingled with free titles, leading to bad customer experiences ranging from people being charged for books they thought were free to feeling like they were the victims of bait-and-switch tactics. (None of this was intentional, of course, but I am very sorry that it happened. It resulted from the perhaps unavoidable fact that Amazon rolled out the program without warning to affiliate websites, but the good news is that for any readers who were charged for a book today due to confusion between free books and the new Kindle lending library program for Amazon Prime members, Amazon’s Kindle customer support is always glad to provide a no-hassle return and refund within 7 days of your purchase. You can contact them via email or phone at http://amzn.to/tL7YwJ.)

But I will have to admit that it took me by surprise that, even after everything was going smoothly and seamlessly on everybody’s websites, there were still a vocal group of our Kindle Nation readers who felt the new program was confusing at best, and a rip-off at worst:

Jo wrote: “Some ‘lending library’ … you can only borrow one a month, that’s 12 a year. You have to be a Prime member to borrow books, that’s 80 bucks a year. 80 divided by 12 is 6.67 per book! Cheaper to buy some and be able to loan them to friends for free! Thanks for nothing Amazon…”

Elizabeth chimed in: “So much for the ‘library’ idea. Easier (and much cheaper) just to head to my local library. This is a rip off!”

“It is a bad idea Amazon…and you saw what happened with the banks,” said Sam.

Sandi asked “is that how so many customers that bought into the Kindle will now be treated? Are big businesses just not getting it? Follow the news on BOA and Netflix? I hope it ain’t so.”

Confusing? Yes, I’ll grant you that. Amazon could have executed a smoother program launch if:

  • it had avoided branding the new program with the “lending library” label in which it suffers by comparison with public libraries that do not charge dues and do not limit borrowers to a single title per month;
  • it had resisted the temptation to use a much larger font size for the “program” price so that customers’ attention would be drawn away from the details until they had already purchased and been charged for the book; and
  • it had shared details about the program with websites such as Kindle Nation Daily so that we could have played a helpful role in clarifying — and, yes, promoting — the program to our readers rather than scrambling to re-write bargain-searching code after the fact while, unfortunately, also posting some phrasing that contributed to the confusion. (Following Amazon’s lead, we made the mistake of referring to the program as Amazon’s “new approach to free books,” and we apologize for that.)

But, all that being said, I strongly resist the notion that either Amazon Prime or the new (and perhaps poorly named) Kindle Owners’ Lending Library program is a rip-off. In order to illuminate the benefits of Amazon prime, we’ll focus on the following:

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