21 Jan 2017

Prime Time

I am about to go on a trip, so I needed a travel guide. And I needed it quickly. Which meant that my standard supplier of all things printed, Amazon.com, was asking for a rather ridiculous amount of money for expedited shipping.

Cunningly, though, the e-commerce giant also offered to send the book for free within two days, if I signed up for a free 30 day trial of its Prime subscription service. This will then start costing $99 a year on day 31, should I forget to cancel in time.

Instead of paying for shipping, I signed up for the trial and set myself a reminder to cancel at the end of the month. Little did I know that this would change my daily routine far beyond receiving free shipping.

Immediately after enrolling, an email arrived in my inbox welcoming me to Prime, and highlighting the many features the service has evolved to include. Front and center is a gigantic amount of free digital content to stream, from music to movies to TV shows, the latter including the series that Amazon has started producing exclusively for its subscribers. 

The only time I had previously heard of Amazon's own film studios was at the announcement that the three intrepid Brits behind the BBC's Top Gear were moving over there, putting a new label on their highly successful motoring show. It is now called The Grand Tour and sure enough, was included in my subscription. So perhaps I could watch an episode or two?

Fast (indeed, very fast) forward two weeks, and I have caught up on the 11 episodes made available so far, and am eagerly waiting for the next weekly release. And I haven't stopped there: A friend recommended the dystopian The Man In The High Castle, set in a world in which the Allies had lost World War II and the United States is now split between the two victorious powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The show is brilliantly adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel, lavishly produced and instantly addictive.

Inevitably, in these cold grey January days, we have become true couch potatoes, curling up every night in front of the tube for a new episode. Or two, for in the days of streaming content, the viewer decides when and how much to watch.

So Amazon is clearly very smart in offering these free trials - the digital content is extremely engaging and boosts customer "stickiness", while data shows that once people are signed up to Prime, they will buy a much wider selection of products at Amazon, and become less price-sensitive.

Will it work for me? The TV shows are a tasty bait. But I will still cancel my membership at the end of the trial month. After all, it started when I bought a travel guide. I need time to read it. And soon, I'll embark on a Grand Tour of my own.

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