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Bezos calls Amazon Prime “the best bargain in the history of shopping.”

It’s interesting how often a company as numbers-driven as Amazon.com asks its customers and shareholders to judge its progress with incomplete data.

The tradition continued this morning as the company announced a big milestone for its Amazon Prime subscription service, complete with a letter from CEO Jeff Bezos on the Amazon.com home page: Amazon now ships more items through the Prime Free Two-Day Shipping program than it does through the Free Super Saver Shipping program that can be used by all of its customers for orders totaling more than $25.

It sounds like a watershed moment, and that very well could be the case, but it’s also a classic Amazon announcement — comparing one unspecified number to another unspecified number and hoping everyone will be satisfied and impressed.

In this case, the real question is how many Amazon Prime subscribers there are, but that’s a number that Amazon doesn’t make public. Bezos says in his home-page letter that “millions” of people are Amazon Prime members, but that’s as specific as the company is getting. Earlier this year, Bloomberg News cited three sources who said Amazon Prime had 3 million to 5 million members as of October 2011 — less than than half as many subscribers as Wall Street analysts had been estimating.

The $79/year Amazon Prime subscription has been around since 2005, and it has become an increasingly important part of Amazon’s broader strategy to retain customers and get them to spend more time and money on its services and products.

“We think it’s the best bargain in the history of shopping, and we hope you do too,” Bezos writes in the letter to on the Amazon home page today.

The company includes a free month of Amazon Prime with its Kindle Fire, in hopes of getting users of the tablet to sign on for a paid subscription to help make up for the cut-rate price of the $199 device. Following its pattern, Amazon doesn’t say how many Kindle Fires it has sold, but describes it as the top-selling product on its site.

Free two-day shipping was the original benefit of Amazon Prime, but in recent years, the company has added the benefits of monthly e-book rentals on Kindle devices and no-extra-charge streaming of selected movies and television shows.

In the news release announcing the Amazon Prime shipping milestone, Amazon gave just about every statistic except the number of subscribers. Here’s the rundown from the company.

  • The top two items purchased with Prime Free Two-Day Shipping this year so far are the Kindle Fire and the $79 Kindle. Kindle Touch is number three and “Fifty Shades of Gray: Book One” is number four.
  • Amazon Prime now features more than 15 million unique items, all with Prime Free Two-Day Shipping.
  • Amazon Prime members could order 500 different items with Prime Free Two-Day Shipping every day of their lives and still not order every Prime item.
  • In a given week, 96.4 percent of the Prime Instant Video catalog is viewed.
  • The number of titles available for unlimited streaming through Prime Instant Video has increased from roughly 5,000 titles at launch to over 22,000 today. Just this year alone, the title count has grown from 13,000 to over 22,000, an increase of 70 percent.
  • In addition to hundreds of compatible TVs and Blu-ray players, you can now watch Prime Instant Video on Kindle Fire, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and iPad.
  • The number of titles available through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has increased from roughly 5,000 at launch, less than one year ago, to over 180,000 today.
  • The most watched TV show available through Prime Instant Video is Downton Abbey Season 1.
  • The most watched movie available through Prime Instant Video is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (English Subtitled).
  • All seven Harry Potter titles are now available to check out, for free, with no due dates through the Kindle Owners’Lending Library.
  • The most borrowed title in the history of Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is The Hunger Games.

 

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