Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rant - Are Subscription Services Worthwhile?

I was trying to work out how much money I was saving by subscribing to Netflix as opposed to buying DVDs (a huge amount it turns out) when it occurred to me that you can currently subscribe to pretty much all forms of digital entertainment (books, films, music, games) without the need for physical purchases. The best thing is that you get access to essentially an unlimited amount of choices rather than restricted to buying select items.

But is it actually cheaper?


Before Netflix came along, I found that I was spending almost £20-£30 a month on films. It's a lot, but also bearing in mind I tend to only buy the cheap stuff (ie films at under £5), I was getting a lot for my money. This is me however and I'm a film fanatic.

I assume that the average consumer probably buys two or three DVD's a month, maybe one new release and two on special offer, so they spend maybe around £15 a month.
That means they spend, on average, about £180 on DVD's a year.
A Netflix subscription (at £5.99 a month) runs you at £71.88 per year, so you can save around £110.

LoveFilm, while cheaper at £4.99 a month (£59.88 per year), doesn't offer you the same variety, assuming you use your Netflix subscription on both the UK and US sites. To get the full benefit of LoveFilm, you need the Streaming and Post membership which costs £7.99 a month and £95.88 for the year, still a considerable saving but more expensive than Netflix.

You could opt for the BT/Sky/Binkbox/other options, but your best value for money (for the time being) comes from either Netflix or LoveFilm.

So total savings per year:
Netflix - £108.12
LoveFilm - £84.12 or £120.12, depending on subscription

Conclusion - Even if you buy just one film a month, you can still save a huge amount of money with a (basic) subscription to either service. Obviously the more films you do watch, the better value for money your membership becomes.


Technically there isn't really a proper digital lending library available in the UK (or anywhere else as far as I'm aware) however being a member of Amazon Prime grants you the ability to 'rent' a book from the Kindle library as often as once per month (providing you actually own an official Kindle device - the Kindle app on a non-Amazon tablet won't work).

The average person in the UK probably reads between two to three books a month.
Assuming they buy a new release every other month (about £8.99 a book), as well as a cheap novel on offer (£4 each) once a month, the average person may spend about £100 on books a year.
Amazon Prime costs £49 per year, however you are limited to one book per month therefore you will probably still crave an extra read or two. Assuming you use the service obtain new releases, that means you will still pick up a special offer if you see one, so in total you will spend about £97 a year.

So total savings per year:
Amazon Prime - £3 (don't forget that this also means you get free next day delivery on all Amazon purchases, so you do end up saving a fair bit more if you are a regular customer).

Conclusion - Heavy readers will not find any savings in this service and the limit of one book per month means you have to wait a while before diving into the next big adventure. For the time being, individual purchases are probably your best bet.


I'm a Spotify user and have been for a good two years now, therefore I will use them as my example. I'm pretty sure they are still one of the best providers of digital music, both in content and price.

On average, a person (an honest one to be more precise) probably buys around two albums a month as well as maybe a couple of individual tracks. Album prices tend to differ quite dramatically in price, depending on the content available, but on average they come out to about £8 each (with individual tracks at £0.99). On average, I estimate people spend about £120 over the course of the year.

Two types of membership apply to a Spotify account (excluding free because it's, you know, free).
The Unlimited service (£4.99 a month) is essentially just an extension of the free account, only you can play as many tracks as you want without adds. This is fine providing you listen to music only while at home but most people like to have their tunes on the go, therefore you have to opt for the more pricey £9.99 a month Premium option to get the ability to download to your portable device and get offline play enabled. So basically for £119.88 a year you get access to pretty much every song ever made at any given time, internet or not.

So total savings per year:
Spotify Unlimited - £60.12 (though no offline play or device storage)
Spotify Premium - £0.12

Conclusion - Music lovers will find that the Premium service will open up so many new artist and genre discoveries and so it turns out to be a whole lot cheaper in the long run. Casual listeners should just stick with the free and only upgrade to unlimited if you get tired of the ads.


Currently all game rentals are disc based (for what I assume are copyright and licensing reasons). Game rentals are normally for people who want a taste of a game before they buy however many use the opportunity to complete the game and move on without having to pay full price for it.

PC users are the worst off as you can't rent PC games period. Gamefly set up a subscription system similar to Netflix or Spotify but that seems to have disappeared. Occasionally, Steam have free weekends where you have access to the full game for 48hrs, and this can be used to complete the entire game without spending a penny. Otherwise you are better off waiting for sales.

Console gamers have it better as you can actually rent the games due to the restrictions in the technology that can actually play them. A regular console gamer probably plays about seven major games a year. Three of those will probably be bought on day one, so you are looking at around £40 each. The others may be the result of a sale, so around £15 each. On average, you'll probably spend £200, including Indie Games and in-game purchases.

Blockbuster, for £9.99 a month, offer unlimited games with two discs at a time. Bearing in mind you can only play one game at a time this is more than enough (it does also include movies, however it is not cheaper than the streaming services available). So this makes it out to be £119.88 a year for pretty much any game you wish.

LoveFilm, for the odd price of £11.22, offer unlimited game and movies, both disc and streaming. Again limited to just two discs at a time, this is more than enough. Assuming you are a heavy film lover too, that means you are essentially taking the LoveFilm £7.99 package and having unlimited games for an extra £3.23.
For £134.64 it's a pretty good bargain.

So total savings per year:
Blockbuster - £80.12
LoveFilm - £65.36
Bearing in mind this does not include downloaded content.

Conclusion - Strict gamers may want to consider the Blockbuster option, which with the two discs at a time option means you can send a disc back and have one ready to play at any given time. Film enthusiasts on the other hand will be able to combine their love of entertainment to opt for the LoveFilm experience and get everything in one convenient bundle. Casual gamers may not find any savings however, especially if they only ever buy games on offer to begin with.

So, final thoughts.

Subscriptions are a good investment if you are a consistent user of that particular media. Both for film and music, you can save a huge amount in the long run while still having access to all your favourite choices and much more.

What does make life better is that you can cancel your subscription at any time and resume it again when you are ready. What I like to do is cancel my Spotify account every couple of months for a few months at a time. What this means is that I can then buy new CD's (cheaply, for less than the subscription per month) based on what I have heard on Spotify, while revisit my own personal music collection resulting in me actually saving a lot more in the end.
The same could apply to Netflix or LoveFilm. Cancel every once in a while to revisit the movies you actually physically bought and maybe treat yourself to a new movie for £4. You may only save £2 but every little helps.

Games are trickier as they are based around the physical discs required to play them. The beauty of owning the game is you can go back to it whenever you want, rather than wait for it to arrive in the post, however at the same time you can rent new releases, play them all the way through and them buy them when hey become cheaper and still make huge savings.

The thing to remember is that you will never actually own any of these items. There's no knowing what the future holds however it may turn out that Netflix can't keep up with the growing demand of film lovers and they go bust, thus rendering all the money you've paid in the past moot. Of course there will be another company to take up the slack, but if there isn't you'll have to build a physical library from scratch.
This is of course worst case scenario, and a very pessimistic outlook, but subscription services are not 100% foolproof.

It's worth finding out much you actually pay for these things and seeing if becoming a subscriber will actually save you money. After all, the more people who show interest in these services the better they will become in the long run.

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