Three Unique Subscription Services that Might Save You Money

By Linsey Knerl on 6 November 2008 (Updated 10 November 2008) 20 comments
Photo: Tracy O

Most of us have used a subscription service in our lifetime.  Cable TV, magazines, and movies are usually purchased in monthly installments.  I recently took a look at three subscription services that were a bit off the beaten path:  MagHound, BabyPlays, and BookSwim.   But are they a good deal? 

If you’ve ever considered convenience or variety to be valuable, you may find these services to be especially enticing.  I haven’t used these services personally, so I can’t vouch for the quality of customer service or the integrity of the products shown.  What I can tell you is my experience in purchasing these items traditionally, the cost involved in the subscription plans, and how they could possibly affect your bottom line.

Magazine Subscriptions via MagHound – This is a very creative way to sell magazines.  Time Inc.’s new MagHound offers to bundle several magazine subscriptions at a reduced price.  If you ever tire of any one title, you can switch it out for another, no questions asked.  You can also cancel your subscription at any time. Let’s look at pricing for this service:

3 Titles for $4.95

5 Titles for $7.95

7 Titles for $9.95  (each additional title is $1.00 per month per title)

If you already subscribe to a bunch of mags, this could be a great deal.  With no contract requiring you to lock in for a year (or more), you can get magazines for as long as you like (and cancel if you find yourself not being able to justify the cost.)  Titles are quality, and at a cost of between $1.50 - $1.60 per mag, per month, it’s a huge savings over newsstand prices.  For a magazine like Real Simple, which charges almost $24 a year (or $2 per issue) on their website, this is a substantial savings.  Other magazines, like Redbook, only charge $5.99 for 12 issues (or $.50 per issue) from their own site.

Bottom line:  You could probably score as good a deal on your own, or through another magazine reseller.  If you’re already indulge in several magazine subscriptions, MagHound could make it easier to manage subscriptions, with no obligation to buy further issues.  If you’re not already subscribing, however, I wouldn’t suggest adding $4.95 (or almost $60 per year) to your budget.

 

Toy rental subscriptions via BabyPlays – Maybe your kid is like most and bores easily with that overpriced toy just days after you buy it.  If so, you may consider renting an assortment of toys on a monthly basis:  This is the premise of BabyPlays.com.  Just like Netflix (but with toys), you can check out toys on a monthly basis, and rotate them with new ones when you’re done.  Keep the ones that go over well for longer, or choose to buy them for a discount.  BabyPlays includes shipping in your monthly fee, so there’s no hassle beyond packing up your “done with” toys.  Pricing for this service is set at:

Silver - 4 Toys per month (3 month commitment) for $36.99 per month

Extended Play - 5 Toys per month (6 month commitment) for $26.99 per month

Gold - 6 Toys per month (3 month commitment) for $47.99 per month

Gold Plus - 6 Toys per month (12 month commitment) for $42.99 per month

Platinum - 10 Toys per month (3 month commitment) for $64.99 per month

*All toys can be returned every 30 days, except for the Extended Play plan, which only allows for returns every 60.

The way the pricing is set, toys will cost between $5.40 per toy per month (for the Extended Play plan) and $9.24 per toy per month for the (Silver plan.)  If you lose a piece from a toy, you have 30 days to find and return it, or be charged a $5-10 fee.  If you fail to properly clean up a toy, you may be charged a $5 fee.  If you break a toy, you must buy it at the reduced price (20% below retail.)  You can also choose to buy any toys you want to keep at this same price. 

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Bottom Line:  If you are using the service to rent low-cost toys (a puzzle that cost $8, for example) this isn’t really good deal.  You could buy new toys for the same cost, and either resell them or donate them to charity if your child really grew that tired of them.  For pricier items that you may not want to take the chance on, it may be simply an OK deal.  Larger toys offered through the service (like the $55 Zoom Around Garage) will count as 2 toys in your rental service.  Personally, I’d recommend shopping garage sales, thrift stores, or clearance racks for toys before I overspend on this service.

 

Book rental subscriptions via BookSwim – I’ve heard a bunch of good stuff regarding this book rental service.  In a nutshell, you check out books much like movies, sending them back when you’re done and getting new ones when they’re available.  The plans cost the following prices for an unlimited number of exchanges per month:

3 at a time for $9.95 the first month (then $19.98 a month thereafter)

5 at a time for $12.45 the first month (then $24.97 a month thereafter)

7 at a time for $14.94 the first month (then $29.96 a month thereafter)

9 at a time for $17.44 the first month (then $34.95 a month thereafter)

11 at a time for $19.93 the first month (then $39.94 a  month thereafter)

*There’s also a 2 at a time plan for $14.99 a month (not including a first month at a discount, but why would anyone get this rotten deal?

The pricing on this service will cost you between $1.81 and $3.31 per book, per month (not including the atrocious 2 at a time deal) THE FIRST MONTH ONLY (then prices go up.   If you can handle having your books shipped via USPS media mail (which can take between 4 and 14 days to arrive), you may get one or two new books per rotation.  Here’s the big IF in the matter: Because BookSwim makes you mail back books in bunches (anywhere from 2 to 4 at a time), it may limit your ability to exchange books quickly.  If you can get just one exchange per book per month for the first month, it decreases your book cost to between $.90 and $1.65 per book.

Bottom Line:  If you have a well-stocked library close by, and you enjoy making the walk/drive/ride, this isn’t a necessary service.  Those in remote locations or who fear library late fees, however, might find BookSwim to be an angel from heaven.  This is a service that will fair best for the well-read or the homebound.  Traditional library geeks might want to save their money.

Do you have any extra advice to share with our readers regarding these three services?  What about any competitors offering similar subscriptions?  We'd love to hear about it!

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Guest's picture
Guest

Our library offers interlibrary loan. We can get pretty much get anything anyone would ever want to read. It also has an extensive magazine selection. If anyone wants to actually purchase a particular issue, one can locally. I'm with you about yard sales for toys too. Why pay retail?

Guest's picture

Not sure if I like the idea of swapping germs via toy rental. It's like letting your kids play with the toys in the pediatricains office on their next wellness visit during flu season.

Guest's picture
libraries

bookswim is really not worth it if you have any decent library services in your area. No matter how much or what you read. Also most libraries offer some sort of homebound or mobile service and some are even doing books by mail (same model as bookswim).

Also, like the reader said above, libraries have ILL departments to get you materials that they don't have and also generally have either multiple locations or participate in a network that shares materials. Just because your neighborhood library doesn't have the movie/book you want, doesn't mean they can't get it for you in a matter of days. Also, if they really don't have access, libraries will generally purchase anything their users request.

I easily replaced netflix with my library system and don't miss it at all. I get all the latest dvds on the same pace as my friends - without paying 20 bucks a month for them. Also, many libraries don't even charge late fees any more.

I'd recommend checking out the stuff you're already paying for (via your taxes) before adding other expenses to your list.

Guest's picture
Guest

have you heard about library??? they even have toys there for kids, and videos to watch right there, and some have play rooms, and magazines, and CDs, and tapes, and everything. why? I thought this was supposed to be about WISE and SMART money management on a small budget. but it sounds like a paid advertisement for the above mentioned services.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Hardly.  I took the time to research these services to show you how they were in some cases NOT a good deal.  For a quick review of my points, I suggest rereading my bottom lines on each.  They will not be a money-saver for many, and I think I was pretty clear about that.  (Although like any and all products and services, there will be an audience it might be a good deal for.)

And yes, I love my library.  :)

Thanks for reading.

Linsey Knerl

 

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'm with you, Mr. Williams, on the germs concern.  The website at BabyPlays states the following regarding germs on their website:

"BabyPlays takes the health and safety of your children very seriously. BabyPlays Toys are sanitized using a 100% All Natural, Organic cleaning product that is approved by the EPA. For more information on what product we are using for sanitization please e-mail: cleantoys@babyplays.com"

I'd rather just buy my own toys (even used) and clean them thoroughly myself. We just survived 6 vicious cases of the flu last week, and I'm not taking any chances!

Thanks for commenting!

Linsey Knerl

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for the reminder!

Linsey

Myscha Theriault's picture

Not sure where the library critics live, but in addition to the fact that Linsey clearly addressed when one may or may not choose to use an alternative service, I would like to point out that not all library systems are created equal.

For example, some only go within their state or other provider network, for example with the military libraries (they may occasionally go outside the network there, but for the most part not to my knowledge). If you live in a state where that state's inter library system is well stocked overall, you might have a prayer of replacing Netflix. Personally, I was never able to trump Netflix at the libraries we had access to in Northern Maine, and the interlibrary loan was not as quick as you might think since everything is so spread out up there. Also, unless you live close by (and we did not) you may end up (which we did) spending more in gas to get the "free" flicks at the library than we spent on Netflix. 

And that's not even addressing the books. For those who are not used to stocking books in heavy supply for young readers, trust me: They fly through them quicker than you might ever predict. Something Linsey clearly pointed out for the benefit of our readers in her artice. Let's make sure we all thoroughly read the piece before attacking her integrity, shall we?

Guest's picture
aylaeh

although i live in a well populated area the libraries here leave something to be desired. instead of having a well stocked main branch they have small branch libraries that carry almost nothing. i have learned that i have to drive to another county's library if i want to find anything that i want to read/watch/listen to. i've actually even joined www.swaptree.com so that i could get some affordable books to read. (you only have to pay for postage on this site).

i also have to agree that i've never found that my library has a better selection than netflix. plus, my library charges a late fee if i don't return the dvd in a week. since this library is in another country i don't always get back there in a week. plus i don't have to use any gas when i get a movie from netflix.

Guest's picture
Sarah

I'm personally a fan of the library but I have a friend who is a traveling MT, she spends about 3 months in each assignment and LOVES to read! This is a perfect service for her so she doesn't have to waste time finding libraries, etc, but saves a lot of money by not paying Barnes and Noble prices for book. I don't think the point of this article was to cater to every person but I found a great Christmas present idea.

Julie Rains's picture

Bookswim could be a great source for bestselling books, which are nearly impossible to come by at my library. They have bestselling books, but often a few years after they hit the NYT or other lists; and some books have huge waiting lists if they are owned by the library. I've been waiting months for a book on how Google got started. I have plenty to read but would like to stay up to date.

I've thought about whether WB should cover non-uber-frugal ideas and my conclusion was "yes"; helping people sort through product/service offerings and marketing messages without making people feel guilty is great. Thanks for starting!

Guest's picture
Michelle

I just went wild over at Maghound. Thank you so much for pointing this out to me. I am a magazine junkie, and this is a godsend. I got magazines for myself, my son, my husband and my classroom. I found out that 15 is the maximum per cart! Another cool thing is that if you order a magazine that only publishes six times a year, for example, you can make a list of substitute magazines that will be sent on the months that the one you chose isn't available.

This saves me tons of money because since I can't afford to get all of the subscriptions I'd like to have at once, I often buy at the stand. Now that temptation is gone. Yea~!

I am also really hating that with the subscriptions that I have, the companies keep sending bills way before they are due, and sometimes duplicate bill. Also, if you get a subscription through a third party, often you will find that you can never, ever cancel the magazine subscription...if you remember who you got it through!

Again, this is just great.

Guest's picture
S. Carvalho

As Sarah said, all libraries are not created equal. My nearest one is not only rarely open on the weekend/evenings, but also seems to comprise largely of old books on sewing and new books on how to use Windows.

That said, here's what I think is a great alternative to bookswim: I buy my books off used booksellers on half.com and then when I've amassed a bunch, I either give them to friends, local used booksellers, or the LIBRARY, thus improving their collection for future generations to come!

The books on half.com are super cheap, as low as $3.00 apiece and if you buy a bunch from the same seller you can combine shipping. Also if you're like me and tend to read four books one month and then no books for the next two, this works out much better in the long run, with no guilt when you're too busy to read and you know you're paying anyway.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Glad that it worked out well for you, Michelle!  I know that for a teacher, this would be a great resource (especially for homeschoolers.) 

Thanks for sharing!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
libraries

just to be clear... my comments above were in no way trying to attack anyone's integrity, just mentioning a few things about libraries that people might not realize. Libraries have changed a lot since we were kids, so they might be worth checking out if you haven't for a number of years. I totally realize that all libraries are not created equal though and feel lucky that I am able to live in an area with great services (these are what are tax dollars should be supporting!).

One more thing to note, in response to libraries not being open evening/weekend hours -- in most cases all of their holdings are online and you can place requests from your home (as easily as commenting on this blog!) to pick up at your convenience (generally from multiple locations).

Also - to the reader from Maine, most Maine libraries participate in a state-wide consortium called Minerva (http://minerva.maine.edu/) - so you might have access to more than you realize! (I'm from Maine, this is how I know this ;))

Anyway, i think all of the suggestions are great and I appreciate finding about all of them - free and otherwise.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've gotten 4 year mag subscriptions for $1.

Most magazines are heavily ad-supported and desperate for subscribers.

Hence all the ebay deals.

Guest's picture
Jessi

Just thought I'd point out that the prices quoted here for Bookswim are only for the first month. After that they jump up considerably: 3 books is 19.98, 5 books is 24.98, etc. At $20 a month I can buy a brand new hardcover once a month. I'll wait until the price of such a service comes down (and until they can also get fast mailing going on.)

For library proponents, it's worth noting that part of the reason to pay for a service is convenience. There's frugality, but then there's also putting value on your time. I could borrow the show I'm watching from the library. But the library doesn't deliver it, they won't let me drop it off at any mailbox in town, and they won't immediately hand me the next set of episodes when I hand them the ones I just watched. I'm paying Netflix $13 a month to do that for me, and I think it's well worth my time.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Wow!  How on earth did I mess that!?!  I'll be adding a mention to my post, Jessi. Thanks for the info!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
AvidReader

Just wanted to let you know about another service, booksfree.com

Not actually 'free' but you can get 6 books a month on here for 21.99 a month. I read about 2 books a week, and I have found this plan works the best for me. I have two on hand, two in transport back to the company, and two enroute to me. You have to ship 2 at a time. There are other plans as well.

And if you do books-on-tape a lot, they have a plan for that as well.

I found I was spending upwards of $100 a month on books. Great program for me!!