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Gift lists can be overwhelming. Simplify, and delight recipients, by checking out subscriptions.

Even in smaller families, the gift list can be overwhelming. Not only are there the usual nuclear-family suspects, but cousins, aunts, and–oh, yeah–those friends of yours. A growing trend that helps handle it all is online gift certificates through places like GiftCertificates.com or that workhorse of online shopping, Amazon.com. But, as some bemoan, gift certificates can feel impersonal, and online versions are no exception.

Fear not. There’s a way to combine the easy shopping offered by online certificates with the personal touch: Give gift subscriptions. Because they renew month after month, subscriptions aren’t the cheapest present for under the tree. But they do show that you’ve thought about the gift, and are ready to fork out a little bit extra for the film buff or music lover in your life. Also, with the range of expenses that people have nowadays, getting a subscription is something your gift recipients might not do for themselves.

Monthly subscriptions are becoming more popular online, as the entertainment realm expands its digital reach. Here are a few ways you can make someone’s holidays a happy one.

Movie time

Although the field was first dominated by Netflix, online movie rentals are now the place to be for major retailers. Blockbuster and Wal-Mart have jumped in, and Amazon is due to follow soon. Some analysts have predicted that all the competition will drive down prices and increase the number of rental companies. This is good news for you and your gifty ways.

The king of the hill, though, is still Netflix, which boasts $17.99 per month for unlimited rentals–recently reduced from $21.99 in the face of growing competition. Its gift subscription is available based on number of months, so it’s easy to give Mom a full year at $215, but your co-worker just a few months for $35.

Netflix’s competitors come pretty close to this price, with Blockbuster currently at $17.49 per month, and Wal-Mart at $15.49. All have a mechanism for giving the service as a gift, but Wal-Mart offers only three-month gift memberships, so if you want to pop for a year, you’ll have to remember to renew manually.

If you don’t want to be one of a few million members and prefer that shop down the block feel, check out Cafe DVD, which specializes in independent and art-house flicks. The company prides itself on titles that are hand-picked by staffers who love hard-to-find movies and turn their noses up at “mainstream releases of questionable quality.”

Name that tune

Ah, online music. Just as some people can’t imagine life without computers and DVD players–not to mention cable TV–there’s a growing contingent of folks who can’t envision what they ever did with those portable CD players. Just one 75-minute, skip-prone CD at a time? You’re kidding.

You can feed that love of all things MP3 by tapping into music sites for either subscriptions or gifts based on number of songs. Currently, Apple-run iTunes has songs for 99 cents each, a rate that’s being met or undercut by other such song selling services as Wal-Mart, Yahoo’s Musicmatch, MSN Music Store, and RealNetworks Rhapsody.

With such a wealth of services, the variety of direct buying and subscriptions varies. The Virgin Digital service, for example, has both song downloads and a music club subscription service, streaming radio, and support for more than 50 portable devices.

Buying subscriptions for music services is trickier than it is for movie rentals, but you can always make it easy on yourself by simply getting online certificates. Many of the services are trying to tout their advantages as gift stores by promoting gift-giving more prominently and making redemption easier. At Musicmatch, certificates can be purchased in amounts ranging from $10-$100.

And why not throw an MP3 player into the mix, just for good measure? (Mom and Dad: A silver iPod mini would be an ideal stocking stuffer…)

Game crazy

Since it reflects an area of more specialized tastes, online game subscriptions should be navigated only with the guidance of the gamer in question. But he or she would undoubtedly be thrilled for advice on such a topic.

Online gaming is very hot, and growing in popularity as game companies bring more titles to the online, multiplayer realm. For most games, it’s necessary to buy the packaged game and then pay for the subscription, but if your gamer chum already has the game and simply wants more time online, that’s possible, too. For example, The Sims Online is a boxed game available at places like Circuit City, with a one-month free subscription. After that, it’s $9.95 per month.

But if the gamer in your life already spends way too much time at The Sims Online, why not reduce the financial burden they face in running their virtual neighborhood? The site offers The Sims Online GameTime cards for $29.95 so cousin Billy can click for three more months if he likes.

Other services simply replicate the Netflix model, letting you rent a handful of games at a time and returning them at your leisure. See Gamefly, Red Octane, GPlay, NumbThumb, and Gameznflix.

Keep on giving

Other subscription opportunities are available as well, depending on interest. A good one for the literate darling in your life is Salon, which offers free day passes in exchange for ad viewing, but there’s only so many times you can watch a BMW ad in return for content.

Another alternative is an online newspaper subscription. Just about every daily newspaper, from the New York Times on down, offers subscriptions to a full, ad-free online edition. The perfect present for a relocated pal might be a virtual subscription to his or her hometown daily.

As any gift giver has found, the Web is rife with opportunities to give interesting and well-appreciated gifts. With subscriptions, you can simply keep giving long past the holidays. And that makes everyone merry.

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