Best subscriptions

Want to get your friend into more shows that you can geek out over together? Get them a subscription to Hulu so you can both keep up with the latest shows or rewatch old classics. Looking for a thoughtful gift for your grandparent who keeps lamenting the lack of quality television these days? Get them a Kindle subscription so they can read some quality literature instead, with adjustable font sizes so that they can read without straining their eyes. Does your coworker keep asking what you're listening to on those huge headphones? Give them a music subscription and send them your mixtapes.

Here are the best subscriptions you can give or get this holiday season!

Music subscriptions

Giving the gift of music is a gift that can be used all day, everyday. Music is also less of a time investment than video subscriptions as you can listen to a music subscription while you get other things done. Most music subscriptions have Android, iOS and web offerings so that listeners can tune in on whatever device is handy.

Most popular: Spotify

Spotify

Spotify was one of the first big names in music subscriptions and it now basically rules the streaming scene. Spotify also won the service of millions of younger listeners by being one of the first big services to offer student discounts, and once you start with one digital library, switching services can be too much of a hassle for most to bother with. Spotify is the popular service, and as such companies and celebrities use the platform to release mixtapes and new content.

Spotify has a great selection and easy-to-use interface for its apps. It also offers desktop options for all major operating systems and plays back seamlessly through the web for those of us who need music as work to keep us from maiming idiots. If you want to give it as a gift, rather than sign someone up, you give them a gift card they can apply to their account, which means if you give it to someone with a Student rate, that gift goes twice as far!

Spotify Premium is $5/month for students, $10/month for individuals, and $15/month for a family plan.

Spotify gift card at Amazon

Widest selection: Apple Music

Apple Music

Apple Music is rather late to the party, but it is Apple, so it has brand power and the clout of the iTunes Store behind it. Apple Music even has a half-decent Android app for those of us who aren't all-in on Apple's devices. Unfortunately, the only desktop option for Apple Music is iTunes, meaning you probably can't use it on your computer at work. Apple offers Student and Family plans, and a fair share of platform exclusives from top artists.

Apple Music also allows you to mix your personal music with its 40 million song catalog, meaning you can mix what you own with what you're subscribing for easily. Apple Music ifts come in the form of gifts cards: you can pay for 3 months of someone's service for $30, or you can pay for a year of someone's service with a $100 gift card.

Apple Music's monthly rates are $5/month for students, $10/month for individuals, and $15/month for a family plan.

Apple Music gift card at Best Buy

Best value: Google Play Music All Access

Play Music All Access

Google Play Music is a good cross-platform music subscription that allows you to easily play back your entire library on any internet-connected computer, but it's real ace in the hole isn't actually All Access: it's YouTube. Google Play Music All Access also includes YouTube Red and YouTube Music, so in addition to streaming millions of songs through Play Music, you can watch millions of videos ad-free on YouTube and enjoy background playback.

Google Play Music does have one fatal flaw for device-hoppers: in addition to a device limit of ten total device and five phones, Google Play Music has a device deauthorization limit of four devices a year. This means that for someone who upgrades phones frequently for work — or someone clumsy who breaks their phones a lot — you could reach a point where you don't have any room on your device list, and you can't make any more room because Google won't let you remove any more devices.

Google Play Music All Access/YouTube Red lacks a student plan, but offers $10/month for individuals, and $15/month for a family plan.

Google Play Music All Access

Best for device-hoppers: Amazon Music

Amazon Music

If you do hop devices a lot, there's a less-explored music subscription you should consider: Amazon Music. Amazon has two subscription services: Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. Prime Music has a slightly smaller selection, but also a lower price, and Amazon Music allows you to upload and mix your personal, purchased, and subscribed music just as easily as Play Music and Apple Music. Amazon Music doesn't quite share the catalog size other services do, but it's easy to use and a great alternative for users who want to mix libraries but run into a device wall with Google Play Music or iTunes.

Unfortunately, giving an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription doesn't seem possible, but you can give someone Prime Music with an Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon Music Unlimited is $8/month for Prime subscribers, $10 for non-Prime individuals and $15/month for a family plan.

Amazon Music

Video Subscriptions

Video subscriptions come in many different sizes and flavors, but before you give them to others, you may want to consider a few things:

  • What types of content does the recipient really enjoy? While Netflix's TV offerings have somewhat improved over recent years, the TV-holic in your life might enjoy a Hulu subscription more.
  • How specific are their tastes? If you've only ever seen your friend nerd out over anime, getting them a Netflix subscription wouldn't be nearly as effective as Funimation or VRV.
  • How much time does your recipient have to enjoy your gift? Video subscription gifts can be a bit of a white elephant gift in that they entice weak-willed users into giving up hours bingeing on their new content source.

Netflix: The icon of binge-watching

Netflix: king of the binge

At this point, there's not much you really have to say about Netflix. It's still the king of video subscriptions, though it is gonna lose a good chunk of its Disney content by 2019 and it seems to be losing just as much high-quality content as it turns out in originals. Netflix is the gold standard for a reason, and about the biggest problem with giving it as a gift is that the recipient probably already has it.

That said, you can buy Netflix gift cards for people who already have an account and help pay for the addiction they're already feeding. Netflix has a trio of plans for $8, $11, and $13/month depending on what level of HD you desire and how many screens you want to be able to watch on at a time.

Netflix gift cards at Amazon

Hulu: TV for the 21st century

Hulu: for the love of TV

Hulu used to just be for catching up on TV episodes you missed last night, but the service has grown into a legitimate contender. Hulu's movie content is still a little weak, but for now, they've got 90's Disney films for nostalgic millennials and they've got top-notch kids content. If you're looking for a subscription for a family with small kids, Hulu is a godsend because even if you don't spring for the ad-free option, all kids content on Hulu is ad-free by default. Hulu also offers add-ons for Live TV, HBO and Showtime, so your friends can get their Game of thrones on after the kiddies fall asleep watching old Nickelodeon cartoons.

Hulu is currently overhauling its gift subscription methodology, but you can still buy gift cards for Hulu just like Netflix in several increments. Buy one for yourself and fall back in love with TV.

Hulu's basic plan with limited commercials is $8/month, commercial-free is $12/month, and you can takc on a bevy of add-ons including Live TV, DVR, Showtime, Cinemax and HBO for varying prices.

Hulu gift cards at PayPal

Amazon Prime Video: Two-day shipping for your two-day binge

Prime Video

Amazon Prime used to just be about the free shipping, but Amazon Prime is actually beginning to amass a decent offering of movies and TV shows. It's still not quite to Netflix or Hulu levels, but Amazon has a secret weapon: mixed libraries. Just as you can have a library in Amazon Music with both your purchased music and subscribed music, you can browse an Amazon Prime library that also includes purchased movies and episodes alongside Prime content. This is especially handy now that Movies Anywhere means you can add many of your movies from iTunes and Google Play to your Amazon library.

Even if your recipient doesn't enjoy the Prime selection that much, they'll still get free two-day shipping. You can gift 3 months of Prime for $33 or give them a year for $99.

Give the Gift of Amazon Prime

VRV: Let's get nerdy

Funimation: You Should Be Watching!

Let's face it: some tastes are a bit more eccentric. Some markets are under-served by mainstream streaming services. That's where VRV comes in. VRV is like a miniature, nerdy internet TV package, which bundles over a dozen content providers and gives you access to all of their sites and content for a single fee instead of paying for them all separately. From anime distributors Funimation and Crunchyroll to nerdy animation like Rooster Teeth and Cartoon Hangover, there's something on VRV for every nerd in your life.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a new batch of dubbed Dragon Ball Super episodes that need watching. VRV's Combo Pack is $10/month and ad-free.

VRV gift cards at Best Buy

YouTube Red: Because who doesn't watch YouTube?

YouTube Red and YouTube Music

Remember when I said Google Play Music's ace was YouTube? YouTube Red and Google Play Music All Access share a subscription, and even if you're a huge music lover, it's kinda hard to overstate how useful ditching the ads on YouTube is. YouTube Red also has a few other handy features that it brings users:

  • YouTube Red includes background playback, so you can listen to YouTube videos while doing other things on your phone or while the screen is off. This is excellent for those of us who listen to a lot of musical covers and remixes on YouTube.
  • Save videos on your phone to playback later without burning through your data limits with YouTube Red's offline playback. This even works for multi-hour videos, so no matter how long your Wi-Fi-less flight, so long as your phone has space for the video, you can watch YouTube videos. Combined with background playback, this is great for listening to panels and concerts on your phone in the car.
  • YouTube Red features exclusive content in YouTube Original content. This includes an expanding bevy of shows and films, and while they're still not quite as interesting as all the content regular people put up on YouTube, they are worth browsing.

YouTube Red also includes YouTube Music, a standalone app with a dark UI and smart mixes to help keep your music flowing freely. You can't gift a YouTube Red subscription, but you can gift a Google Play Music subscription, which includes YouTube Red.

Google Play Music All Access/YouTube Red lacks a student plan, but offers $10/month for individuals, and $15/month for a family plan.

Give YouTube Red via Google Play Music All Access

Kindle Unlimited: because the book was better anyway

Go read a book

Not all of us have the time to sit down and watch hours of TV and movies. But we all have a few minutes to kill throughout the day: stuck on the train, waiting for appointments, sitting on the porcelain throne. These are moments that most of us turn to Twitter and brain-melting mobile games, but we could be more productive with our time. We could read a book. Kindle Unlimited is one of the most well-known digital book subscriptions out there, and it works on just about every platform out there.

There's one more reason a Kindle subscription might be more thoughtful for your friends than a video subscription: streaming videos takes a lot of data, and downloading videos for offline playback is both limited and storage-heavy. Downloading a book is small, and reading a book is often far more battery-friendly than watching a video, so a friend without unlimited data or lots of storage space on their phone could read books on their phone far more easily.

Kindle Unlimited is $10/month, and you can gift 6 months, 12 months, or 2 years.

Give the gift of Kindle Unlimited at Amazon

What subscriptions are on your list?

Are there any subscriptions that you're intending to give this season? Are there any you're hoping to receive? Tell us in the comments!

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