Which Online Services Are Worth Paying For?
The internet has a bevy of entertainment and information, mostly for free. The majority of websites offer a small amount of entertainment at no cost, and more for a nominal fee. And although the record industry and television industry seem to be suffering for it, we consumers are coming out on top. Below is a list of consumer-driven websites like Hulu and Spotify, as well as content-driven websites like Vimeo and Flickr. The question for each website is simple — is paying for online content worth it? I've detailed the pluses and minuses so you can figure out what's worthwhile for you. (See also: New Ways to Listen to Music for Free or Cheap)
Since Hulu launched, I haven’t paid for cable. There’s no point — almost everything I want to watch is on there, and most is free. Hulu Plus was introduced two years ago, and its content boasts old-school television shows and feature films. Thanks to Hulu Plus, I’ve spent the last week revisiting my favorite television shows like "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "Doogie Howser." Unfortunately, their movie selection is scarce. They claim to have deals with Miramax and the Criterion collection, but most movies offered are terrible, one-star films that never made it to the big screen. Their television shows are better, but still not as good as Netflix’s selection. Hulu Plus has a lot of Korean and Spanish-language programs too, but Netflix has more of an instant selection, and it costs the same. Also, even with Hulu Plus, there is still advertising, and with Netflix there is none. But don’t forget — Netflix has yesterday’s television shows; Hulu has today’s.
Hulu Plus: $7.99/month
If you haven’t heard of Spotify and are only annoyed by the constant Facebook updates, you’re actually missing a whole world of awesome music, for free. Spotify is a desktop application with occasional ads between songs. However, if you want unlimited music no matter where you are, even when you're without an internet connection, that’ll cost you money. Out of their two options, the unlimited account is cheaper, featuring unlimited music without ads. The premium account, however, is the clincher — on top of no advertising, you can play music on your mobile phone and offline. There is also advanced sound quality (320 kbps) and the ability to play music anywhere in the house. Overall, Spotify Premium is worth it if you have a smartphone.
Spotify Unlimited: $4.99/month
Spotify Premium: $9.99/month
Where Spotify is perfect for finally listening to that band that your ex-boyfriend gushed about for your entire relationship, Pandora is good for listening to the bands that sound like your favorite bands. Pandora has far more commercials, but their upgraded account is far cheaper. What PandoraOne promises: no ads, higher-quality audio (but at 192kbps, still not as good as Spotify Premium), a desktop application, and the ability to listen for five hours straight without interruption. Pandora’s free set-up makes you click on occasion to prove you’re still there. Pandora One is perfect for playing in businesses — there is variety instantly built in.
Pandora One: $36/year, $3.99/month
Vimeo is the go-to for all aspiring (and a ton of accomplished) filmmakers. Better than YouTube, it gives users a chance to really connect with other users, rather than just uploading a cat video and getting a pop record out of it. The disadvantages of a regular Vimeo account aren’t terrible; after uploading the video, your video is “queued” to convert and you have uploading limits in regards to size and quality. But with Vimeo Plus, you jump ahead of the line, straight to converting. You also have the ability to upload as many HD videos as you want; create an unlimited amount of groups, channels, and albums; get discounts for products, and more. Simply put, if you’re someone who likes producing high-quality video, Vimeo Plus is for you, but if you’re there for the community, stick to a regular account.
Vimeo Plus: $59.95/year
Flickr has been my picture sharing service of choice since Yahoo was popular. Once I started traveling, I started paying for their Pro account. Now, Google’s Picasa exists, and Facebook has expanded their upload limits, but I still pay for the Pro account. Why? Truthfully, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s laziness. Flickr doesn’t make it easy to upload and sort pictures, where Picasa has a desktop application that helps you edit pictures on your computer, which is easier than uploading then sorting. Also, Picasa is free for up to 1GB of storage, but the additional storage prices vary. To me, the main difference between the two is the same as the difference between Vimeo and YouTube (also owned by Google) — Picasa reaches a broader audience, whereas Flickr is for professional photographers (or those who think they are, like me).
Flickr Pro: $24.95/year
Unless you’re a photographer or filmmaker, LinkedIn might be the best way to advance your career. LinkedIn is a great way to put yourself out there, but connecting options are limited. You can send messages to some, but upgraded accounts give you more search results, expanded profiles, and more. If you’re recruiting, there are special packages for your company as well. It works the same as personal accounts, but instead of finding potential employers, you’re able to find potential employees. Although I haven’t personally used LinkedIn to advance my career, I do have friends who use it for work functions and networking, and after looking it over more, I'll be doing the same.
Premium prices vary
What do you think? Is it worth it to pay for online content?