The Money Shop guide to subscription services

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Every week we fill you in with the latest news & money saving tips to enjoy life on a budget!

Spotify, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple Music, Graze… with so many services out there vying to collect your hard-earned cash through direct debits every month, it can be hard to know exactly what to pick.

Everything seems to offer a slightly different version of the same thing, and there's more curated boxes of products desperate to come through your door than we can count.

So let's take a look at some of the most popular ones out there, and whether they're actually any good.

Spotify logo

Music

Music streaming subscriptions are big news – whenever they launch, get bought out, add exclusives, or release their earnings. But the most important thing is, which ones are worth paying for? The big players at the moment are arguably Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Google Play. On the surface, their services are all fairly similar, but there are a few differences that might cause you to change your mind on what you pay for.

Cost

All four actually charge the same, once you get above their free versions: £9.99 a month across the board for the most basic subscription, which isn't bad for unlimited music streaming, we reckon – provided you use it enough. Some do offer higher pricing tiers, which offer a few extra benefits, but for the average music fan, it's not really that big a deal.

Catalogue Size

Streaming services offer millions of tracks – literally more than you could ever listen to in a lifetime (click here to hear a song on Spotify that no-one's ever heard before…), but there are some differences in their catalogues. Spotify in particular have had some high-profile acts withdraw their tracks from the service – most recently Taylor Swift.

They still have the biggest catalogue out there, though – while Google Play and Apple Music max out at about 30 million, Spotify go way beyond that.

Tidal, on the other hand, "only" have about 25 million, though their big selling point is the exclusives you can't get anywhere else.

Sound Quality

Spotify and Google Play stream at CD quality (320kbps bitrate, for anyone who's interested), whereas Apple Music is slightly lower (256kbps) – not that you'll really be able to notice it on a standard set of headphones or speakers. Tidal offer super high-fidelity quality (1,411kbps!), but you need to pay an extra £10 per month to get it.

Apps

Spotify can be used on the most devices: Xbox, Playstation, Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, Andorid and iOS. Apple Music and Tidal are iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android only for now, whereas Google Play music only works on Android and iOS – so it's a little less practical for listening to at home.

At a Glance

Can't decide? Here's a quick breakdown to help you make up your mind.

 

Cost

Catalogue Size

Quality

Apps

Spotify Premium

£9.99

30 million +

320kbps

Xbox, Playstation, Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, Android and iOS

Apple Music

£9.99

30 million

256kbps

are iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android

Tidal

£9.99 (£19.99 for lossless audio)

25 million

320kbps/1,141kbps with Tidal HiFi

are iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android

Google Play Music

£9.99

30 million

320kbps

Android and iOS

 

TV and Films

Netflix logo

It's hard to believe Netflix used to just send you DVDs through the post, now that it's making its own award-winning TV series and films, and streaming them direct to your laptop. But it's not alone – NowTV and Amazon Prime are major competitors, and there are a few other curious contenders too.

Cost

Netflix has remained pretty cheap over the years – people like to grumble about increases, but they've been tiny. It's £5.99 for the basic package, or for £7.49 you can get HD streaming and watch on two screens at once – films for you, and cartoons for the kids, for example.

Your Amazon Prime subscription, at £79, includes access to their film and TV streaming service. It's a big up-front cost but, split over the year, it works out as about £6.58 per month. Or you can sign up for Amazon Prime Video only, which is £6.99 per month.

NowTV, on the other hand, is £6.99 for just TV shows, though you can also use it to watch Freeview channels. If you want films as well, it goes up to £9.99.

Catalogue Size

Netflix doesn't disclose how much it's got, and adds and removes stuff on a regular basis. It also varies across regions, and the UK does get the short end of the stick compared to the US. Still, there are thousands of films and TV series, with over a hundred originals like Orange is the New Black and the many Marvel series, to keep you busy.

Amazon promises thousands of titles, but counts single episodes as unique titles in its 17,000 total to bump up the numbers – it definitely has a little less than Netflix. It does have its own crop of exclusives though, with the Top Gear old guard's new programme among them. You can also buy or rent newer titles for one-off fees.

NowTV has a much smaller catalogue, but it does offer live TV channels too. TV and film streaming services vary much more than music, so it's worth looking at all the features to see which actually appeals to you the most. You might decide that DisneyLife - £9.99 a month for all the Disney you could want – is really all you need!

Quality

As we mentioned, Netflix gives you HD quality (otherwise known as 1080p) for an extra £1.50 a month, although for £8.99 you can get "Ultra HD" – otherwise known as 4K, which you'll need a compatible TV for.

Amazon, on the other hand, gives you HD and 4K for free. It's all included in the flat price. NowTV, on the other hand, is a little lower in its resolution – 720p compared to Netflix and Amazon's 1080. Still, if you're watching on a laptop or smaller TV, you'll barely notice the difference.

Apps

Amazon, NowTV and Netflix all work across similar platforms – most phones, tablets, games consoles, and laptops – though NowTV has its own streaming box that you can plug straight into your TV.

At a Glance

Can't make your mind up? Here's a quick comparison to help.

 

Cost

Quality

Apps

Netflix HD

£7.49

1080p

PC, Mac, Playstation, Xbox, Wii U, Smart TVs, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire, Windows Phone, YouView, and more.

Amazon Prime

£6.99 per month, £79 per year

1080p and 4K

PC, Mac, Playstation, Xbox, Wii U, Smart TVs, Android, iOS, Amazon Fire

NowTV

£6.99 for TV, £9.99 for TV and Films.

720p

PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Playstation, Xbox, Apple TV

Product Boxes

Graze box

Paying for things that still come through the post? Not very modern. But after the popularity of Graze has boomed over the last few years, thousands of people are taking advantage of having hand-picked products sent direct to their door. But are they worth it?

Graze is £3.99 per box of healthy snacks, and you get four different types of thing to sample. They're not exactly big portions, but when you consider that it's basically £1 for something you might not be able to make at home from supermarket options for a similar price, it's not actually a bad deal. They can be a one-a-week necessity or a one-a-month treat – it's up to you.

We say: they're worth a go, especially if you can get a free box voucher off a friend or co-worker. But don't get hooked – one a week will cost you over £200 throughout the year. Other than Graze, you'll find brands that have a tendency to be a bit more specialist (super-healthy, paleo diets, vegan, gluten-free etc.) so they're not worth it unless you really need it.

Makeup boxes are one of the most popular genres out there – Birchbox and Glossybox are probably the leading choices. Unlike Graze, you don't pay per-box – you sign up for a multiple-month or annual subscription, and pay postage every time. You're looking at £10 to £13 per month, but if you're spending a lot of money on cosmetics every month it might be worth substituting some of your more expensive items for professional recommendations!

There are loads of product boxes out there, and they all look so tempting. Lootcrate will send you loads of geeky fun stuff for £20 a month. Flavourly will send you eight craft beers a month for £24, and at £3 per beer, that's actually pretty cheap for a fancy craft option. Field and Flower will send you a surprising amount of meat for £28 in their Little Taster box, and like the beer box is quite good value – but still a definite luxury.

Boxes like these are great for an occasional treat, and they'll usually offer you loads of great deals and discounts that you can use to get even better prices – if you close your account, they may try and lure you back with a free box – but don't get sucked in, or you'll end up spending hundreds per year on stuff which will, to be honest, probably start to lose some of its excitement after a few months. It's best to stick to the things you really need. Like unlimited Disney.

Find out more money saving tips on our blog.

Remember, do not buy what you can’t afford, and think carefully before taking out a loan for any non-essential purchases.

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    The Money Shop guide to subscription services