The Five Best Subscriptions Out There

An absence of 71 days, followed by a day with two posts. Not bad.

Like a lot of people, I spend way too much time online, on my phone. It is the hub of my life. That’s where I get my email. That’s where I go on social media. That’s where I take pictures. And until recently, that’s where I would make blog posts on here, which you can read about in a preceding post.

And I would imagine, being on the Net most of you know that the lifeblood of the Internets, are subscriptions. All that “filthy lucre” coming in like clockwork every day of every month. For some of us, there are just too many damn subscriptions, to the point where there are services that will allow you to scrub your accounts to show you what you’re subscribing to, and in many cases help you get rid of the dead weight. How many of us go through our subscriptions and say “So, why the HELL am I subscribing to Netflix when I get it included gratis with my cable subscription?” (Which is another topic for some other time). And God help any of you who get “tricked” into these subscriptions from sketchy websites or online apps for crazy money. Put another way, if I’m being asked to pay $20 a month for ANYTHING it better be something more than some silly game or one dimensional app. I won’t name any specifics but when I go online and I see the prices that some of these apps ask for I will say hard pass and delete it.

I am a hard sell with subscriptions. I try to avoid them as much as I can. For me to subscribe to something, it has to provide me with value that at least provides the value I am paying, if not exceeds it. And there are MANY applications and services out there that deliver, and then some.

My focus is going to be on services (not warranties like AppleCare, which I would recommend in most cases) and exclude free apps. So with that in mind here are my five favorite apps that consistently deliver value:

5. YouTube (9.99 per month)

Oh, how I love you, YouTube. Oh, how I LOVE to watch YouTube. Pretty much anything you want to watch is on there. Among other things, I enjoy watching Simon Whistler’s videos (who doesn’t love a snarky, sarcastic bald bearded Englishman?), this guy Flemlo Raps (excellent storyteller about football players), video clips from the Ed Sullivan Show archive (incredibly well preserved, especially when the show flipped to color in 1965), and then other things like Roy Clark doing Roy Clark things, Big Papi doing Big Papi things, and of course Malcolm Butler doing Malcolm Butler things. All things that make you smile. And then there’s history — want to watch how TV news covered the JFK assassination as it happened? You can.

And you can do this — all of this- for free…..as long as you’re willing to sit through ‘pre-roll videos”. If you don’t mind it, it’s OK; but for the most part it’s a pain in the ass (and I think if you skip through the video you’re subjected to another ad). The 9.95 a month eliminates these“pre-roll” ads. All of them. So you can watch your videos ad free. Someone sends you a YouTube link? Click and enjoy. Want to see Malcolm Butler make the best play in Super Bowl history for the 999th time, because being there and seeing it unfold 100 feet away from you as the crow flies just wasn’t enough? You don’t have to sit through an ad for whatever to see it. You see it. And while there are still adverts that are “baked” into many videos, where the content provider will pitch a product, those are usually benign and can be skipped over if you so desire. (Most of the time I will let them play out, same as with a podcast, even though I never buy the products.).

I watch YouTube more than any other content provider, combined. The $10 is well worth it.

4. Amazon Prime ($139.00/year up front, $14.99 monthly)

Amazon is a go-to for me. It is nice to know that if I need something — anything, anything at all — there’s a very good chance that if I time it right I can have it the next day, or even later the same day. And at prices that bricks and mortar stores can’t touch. How many times have I gone into a store looking for something, seeing the prices, and then finding something on Amazon that matches it?

One or two day turnaround is huge. In most cases you can get something the same day. If you time it early in the morning, you can get it the SAME day. In a quirk, I’ve seen it where if you order something at say 9pm it will promise delivery in two days (which includes holidays), which is very good. But if you order early enough the next morning, you can get the same item delivered the same day! That can be hit or miss; but I’ve found it to be more hit than miss.

The real value proposition for Amazon Prime that makes it a winner is the wear and tear on your car that you save, and the time you save. I needed a new bag for my lawnmower and setting aside that no one seemed to have my bag in stock, I was able to find one on Amazon at a competitive price with free shipping, and I didn’t have to drive around.

“But I plan my shopping adventures. I’ll wait until Saturday, or maybe one day after work and go to Universal Drive and bang out shopping at 3–4 stores all at once, and it’s not that far out of my way.” And that’s great, especially if a sudden need comes up for something. Still, even planning as well as you can plan it, the wear and tear and time savings all adds up quickly. The current IRS reimbursement for mileage is 62.5 cents a mile. Hypothetically, if you’re going to make a 20 mile round trip to pick up something, that’s 12.50 in wear and tear on your car. (That is the metric I use, as opposed to gas, as it factors in wear and tear on a car’s brakes, tires, and other things that go on a car). If you can save those 20 miles 12 times in a year, the service has paid for itself, and I will use Amazon several times in a month, usually for little things. Add to that the content that you get with Amazon Prime and the series they have and starting in the fall Thursday Night Football, and this is an easy one. I had been paying $15 a month for cash flow purposes for a while; now that I have my cash flow in a good place I can pay the $139 up front. Easy.

3. Apple One ($14.95 individual, $19.95 per month)

This subscription gives you Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Arcade and One Drive. Great bargain. Unlimited access to Apple Music, which features lossless music and Spatial Audio. “Listen to your favorite songs again for the first time.” Even on so-so earbuds, spatial audio is amazing. On top of this, you also get Apple TV, and the content factory they have there, including MLB games and starting next year, select MLS games. Apple Arcade is something I don’t really use, but it’s nice knowing that there are some fun games like NBA2K22 Arcade that I can play to my heart’s content and not have to pay anything extra for coins or cash or whatever. And iCloud is something invaluable to me, the security of putting my files in the cloud (which I’m learning since I had an external hard drive that crashed.). I pay a little extra for a lot more space, which helps. But this is definitely a service that delivers a bundle of content that is really hard to beat. Indeed, the music and TV alone are probably worth the $20 for the family.

2. Microsoft 365 ($99 annually; $9.99 monthly)

This is a subscription I currently do monthly since it’s worth the $20 to spread out the payments over the course of a year. As good as Google Docs and other free spreadsheet apps are, Microsoft Office is the gold standard. While the free spreadsheets are fine, they aren’t always compatible with Microsoft. Sometimes the formulas that work in MS Office don’t work on free documents. Othertimes navigation is cumbersome.

Not a problem here. For $10 a month you get THE WHOLE MS Office suite (I use Excel, Word and Outlook) AND you get them updated AS THE UPDATES ROLL OUT. You also get Skype and Teams. There’s also a cool phone app called Lens, which is an excellent and handy scanner that is included. Still not satisfied? 1 terabite of cloud space included. STILL not satisfied? The price I quoted above is the family rate, you can share it with up to five people. You can also install the apps on up to five devices (I have a laptop, iPhone and iPad and that’s all I’ll ever really need it for.). There’s an individual plan for $69 or $6.99 a month, but this is something I use every day, and it is well, well worth it.

  1. Spotify ($9.99 monthly individual, $12.99 monthly for two)

This is my winner for a number of reasons. This is in my opinion THE BEST music streaming app out there. Although they have dipped their toe into getting involved with other media (specifically, they own Bill Simmons’s The Ringer website and all related podcasts), this is, first and foremost, a music app, and no one does it better. Apple Music is technically better, but Spotify is flawless. The interface is clean and simple and I’ve never once had a problem with it. As far as quality, you can stream up to 320bps (which is plenty good enough). Most important, pretty much any and every song you could want is on there. Some are not, but that’s how it goes with some of these services. Not every record store had the records you wanted, either. (That said, why no streaming service in the free world carries “She Drives Me Country” by Brandon Lepere is one of life’s great mysteries, especially when they carry the whole damn album. And nothing against Neil Young, but who under the age of 50 knows who Neil Young is?).

It also wins for me because it’s my history. I signed on to Spotify in 2013. I’ve tried other services that were technically better or had a different angle, and like I said I have Apple Music and I do like it; but my life is on Spotify. And like any good music app, you can create your own playlists, all you want. You know how certain songs can take you back to a certain time and place? That is what these playlists do. I will usually group playlists by sports season, i.e., “Red Sox 2019”, “March Madness 2019”. Then there are special “micro” playlists “SB49 PowerMix” and “Game 7 — Blues/Bruins”. Doesn’t get more micro than that. I don’t go back to them too often but they will show me what was on my mind and what songs I listened to at a certain point in time. And if you don’t want to make your own playlists? There are plenty of curated playlists out there: both from Spotify and others that people share — some of which you can add to. Plus podcasts, again, pretty much anything you want. And it interfaces flawlessly with Apple Car Play. (BTW Spotify does have a social aspect where you can follow people and see what they listen to and vice versa; but you can only see this on the desktop app, and almost everyone accesses Spotify with their phones, so it’s not a selling point. Basically, it’s just there.)

By the way, as if all this wasn’t enough, I also get limited Hulu with my subscription. This is something Spotify no longer offers, but people who signed on to it will get to keep it until, I guess, Spotify decides to pull it. I don’t really watch Hulu, but it’s definitely a nice to have.

But the best thing about Spotify — THE BEST- is you get your very own Hot 100 countdown at the end of the year. What song did you play the most? This usually drops early December and it’s always exciting. In the beginning it was simply a Hot 100 list. Then they started adding to it — what was the genre you listened to the most? (for me it was Motown). How many times did you play a specific track? (For me in 2020 it was Django (from Django Unchained), which I played something like 725 times.). Another year there was TWO versions of Happy (from Despicable Me 2) by Pharrell that placed in my Top Five. Message to Spotify: More, please. I want to see these MONTHLY. I want to see these on any range I choose. What times do I play what songs? Too much data is not enough!

And this is Spotify’s genius. That’s how they get you. That’s why I pay the $10 every month and have since 2013. More than any other app, this — Spotify — is my life. It’s not that I don’t have to buy records or CDs, although that is a pretty sweet hook. It’s not that it’s the most technologically advanced service — it’s plenty good enough (and besides, digital replaced vinyl for a pretty damn good reason: digital doesn’t get worn out). No. It’s that the last nine years of my life — what I’m listening to now, what I was listening to when Malcolm Butler did his thing-can be summarized in that one app. The icon is on the front page of my phone, and it is an app (maybe the only app) that I use literally EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I am Spotify. Spotify is me.

And that’s why Spotify is Number 1.

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pete.garofalo

pete.garofalo

“It is called a medium because it is very rare that it is well done.” — Ernie Kovacs