Which Online Services Are Worth Paying For?

Photo: Jerry Bunkers

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)

1. Hulu

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

2. Spotify

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

3. Pandora

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

4. Vimeo

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

5. Flickr

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

6. LinkedIn

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?

Average: 4.7 (6 votes)
Your rating: None

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Guest's picture

I guess if it will lead to more profits, it's okay. But if it's just for listening to music and other types of leisure, I'd stick to the free ones.

Guest's picture

Actually, it violates Pandora's music licensing agreement to play Pandora in a business unless you pay for it though their business provider DMX. http://help.pandora.com/customer/portal/topics/96127-pandora-for-your-bu... if you choose to play it without that subscription you can be sued.

Jennifer Holder's picture

Ah, thanks for that clarification! Good to know.

Guest's picture

Spotify used to be a favourite of my colleagues and I, as it was a free radio where you could choose your own songs. However since they put in a limit on the number of times you can listen to a certain song, I have switched to the paid version and it really is excellent. If you are an avid listener then it is definitely worth the money, otherwise stick with iTunes.

Guest's picture

I pay for Netflix, and think it's worth every penny... I have thought about Hulu Plus, but just can't bring myself to pay for it... new shows are free anyway and I don't have to feel like I'm supporting Fox in any way.

Guest's picture

I don't pay premium prices for these services, I just stick to basic and it works fine for me.

Guest's picture

I'd definitely recommend Vimeo if you at all serious about video. It's such a polished format that processes your video much better than YouTube. Saying that, I would upload to YouTube too, which will still generate the hits and therefore some traffic.

Jennifer Holder's picture

Best of both worlds... great idea!

Guest's picture

IMO, Spotify is definitely worth paying for. I've found a ton of new artists through their service and love being able to download music to my phone for offline listening (esp. when traveling). I was on the fence with Pandora, didn't love it enough to pay the $3.99 fee, but the free version's ads were annoying to me. Anyway, I just found a great compromise b/c I'm now getting free Pandora One here (http://www.hitbliss.com/pandora.html)....well, "technically" free as I don't have to use a credit card or any cash (just watched ~5 mins of ads).

Anyway, when it comes to paid radio apps, I think bliss would be a Spotify/Pandora combo. This way you could have the random discovery component of Pandora w/ the downloading and playlist control of Spotify. If only Spotify could improve their radio some more (selection is too limited and I get lots of repeated songs on their genre radio stations). Thinking of checking our iRadio next (on my list).