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Three subscription services that are totally worth it

The Cheapskate hates paying monthly fees for anything, but exceptions are sometimes made. Here are three, along with totally free alternatives!

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read

First things first: I obviously ruffled some feathers yesterday when I suggested that the Roku 3 was anything less than awesome. Let me clarify: It's no less than awesome. And I apologize for neglecting to note that the deal was for the first-gen model, not the newer Roku 3. (The "Roku 3.1"? "Roku 3 2"? "Roku 3+"? Some kind of designation would have been useful, Roku. Just saying.)

Second things second: As you might expect from a cheapskate, I despise subscriptions. Paying a monthly fee for anything pains me at the DNA level. Maybe it's because there are some I can't escape, like car, house, utilities, Internet, phone and so on.

But recently I've started to soften a bit, because there are some services I find ridiculously convenient, ridiculously good or both -- and therefore worth paying for. Here are three. I don't expect you'll agree with all of them, but as always I welcome your opinions.

Any on-demand music service


This was a sea change for me. When it comes to music, I'm old-school: I buy it. I own it. I don't rent, thank you, because that's a sucker bet. A money pit from which there's no escape. Once you start subscribing to a music service, you're pretty much stuck subscribing to it for life.

You know what else I'm stuck subscribing to for life? My phone. So I kind of rewired my thinking along the lines of, "If I pay an extra $10 per month for my phone, I can have all the music of the world. Anytime. Anywhere."

And that's the allure of a Google Play Music All Access, a Rhapsody, a Spotify: instant on-demand access to an insane amount of music, without the hassles of downloading, storing, syncing and all that. I no longer have the time or energy to manage an MP3 library. Thankfully, I no longer need to.

Cheapskate readers had a great discussion about this back in December. Let's continue it here: Are you paying for a music service? If so, which one, and why?

Freebie alternative: There are countless ways to stream music for free, though usually you're limited to curated playlists; you don't get on-demand access to exactly what you want. Plus, you may have to suffer occasional commercial breaks. My favorite freebie service: Songza, which, amazingly, streams commercial-free. Still prefer downloads? Check out Freegal Music, which, if you have a library card, gives you a handful of free MP3s every week.



"Game of Thrones." "Last Week Tonight." "Silicon Valley." "Veep." Shall I go on? HBO is home to some of my favorite shows, but there's just no way I'm giving my cable company another dime.

Fortunately, I no longer have to. The new HBO Now service gives me the entire network for $15 per month. That's a little steep, yes, but here's the thing: I can subscribe for a month, binge on the new seasons of the aforementioned shows, then dump it. All told, I might end up paying $45 over the course of a year.

Oh, and when I'm jonesing for a little "Deadwood" or "Flight of the Conchords," I can access HBO's back catalog of shows via Amazon Prime -- another subscription service that is totally worth it. (Once you live in a free-two-day-shipping world, you can't go back.)

Freebie alternative: I'm not saying you should sponge off a friend or family member who's paying for HBO on cable or satellite, only that it is possible to share an HBO Go account. (Thanks, Dad!) Other than that, all you can do is wait for your shows to come out on DVD/Blu-ray, then check 'em out of the library. (Good luck avoiding all the spoilers till then.)

Next Issue

Screenshots by Rick Broida/CNET

Because I'm a magazine junkie, I was enamored with this all-you-can-read digital-magazine service from the beginning, even when it offered a paltry 40 titles. But Next Issue has improved dramatically over the years, with a library of over 140 magazines and much better Android and iOS apps. (I particularly like the new article-search and top-story features, though for the moment those are iOS-only.)

You can try the service free for 30 days; after that it'll run you $9.99 per month, or $14.99 if you want weeklies like Sports Illustrated and Time. If you already subscribe to a lot of magazines, the math can actually work in your favor by switching over to Next Issue -- plus you get the chance to explore tons of other titles.

If you own a compatible tablet and love your magazines like I do, I really think you'll like Next Issue.

Freebie alternative: Hit your favorite magazines' Web sites every now and again, then use a service like Pocket to "clip" the stories you want to read and sync them straight to your phone or tablet.

Bonus deal: Nothing, but nothing, beats a wall-size movie screen. Got a wall? All you need is a projector. Like this one: Today only, and while supplies last, Amazon has the ViewSonic Pro8200 1080p projector for $499.99 shipped. It sells elsewhere for at least $700 and has a 4.4-star rating from over 130 buyers. Specs include 2,000 ANSI lumens, two HDMI inputs and built-in speakers. Just plug in your Blu-ray player and you're all set for awesome.