Computers, MP3 players, video game systems and other gee-whiz gadgets may seem like expensive luxuries, especially given the current economic climate. But as any well-informed techie knows, with savvy use of the Web and online services, they can actually save you a bundle. From free movies and music to discount shoes and toilet paper, here’s how to justify nearly any 21st century upgrade.
Anyone can save half off on books, films, games and albums instantly at online retailers like Buy.com and Overstock.com. But true pop culture connoisseurs know the smart money’s in free and deeply-discounted digital alternatives. “If you’re already paying for an Internet connection, you don’t need to pay for anything else,” explains Leo Laporte, host of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Tech Guy. “Nowadays, with a couple clicks, you can find amazing deals.”
Books and Magazines
Hit Project Gutenberg to download or skim 25,000+ volumes from Frankenstein to Oliver Twist online. Resources like Scribd.com, ManyBooks.net, and WorldLibrary.net also offer unprecedented access to volumes in every computerized shape, size and format. Wikibooks further hosts hundreds of no-cost educational volumes, while Google Book Search lets you retrieve Moby Dick or Wuthering Heights in seconds. And for those with shorter attention spans, countless periodicals like The New York Times and SPIN also offer complimentary virtual editions, accessible via Web browser – no Kindle 2 required.
Rock on: A desktop/laptop or standard-issue MP3, a.k.a. digital music, player ($30-50) can get you started buying unprotected songs for as little as .30-.69/track from eMusic and Amazon MP3. Subscription services like Rhapsody and Napster additionally promise unlimited tunes for $12.95/month and up – less than the cost of a single CD.
Most AM/FM radio stations, including networks like NPR, also stream live broadcasts at no charge from their homepage. Internet providers Pandora and Slacker even support custom channels personalized around favorite songs and artists.
Apple’s iTunes Store additionally features a free single every week, and hosts hundreds of complimentary podcasts (audio recordings) on everything from politics to golf. Run a search on Yahoo.com or MSN.com, and you’ll find hundreds of unsigned bands and amateur DJs offering free music and talk programming as well.
Movies and Television
Forget cable. ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and ESPN all provide free video on their websites, including full episodes of CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. Hulu.com, Fancast.com and Joost.com even host hundreds of gratis flicks like Ghostbusters, Starship Troopers and Lost in Translation. Prefer indie and foreign flicks? Visit Jaman.com to enjoy free, ad-supported art house films instead. Be sure to check out our “Complete Guide to Watching Your Favorite Shows Online” and “Cheaper Alternatives to Cable/Satellite TV” for more tips.
PC and Video Games
For immediate, wallet-friendly stress relief, try InstantAction.com, Shockwave.com and Kongregate.com’s simple, no-cost time-wasters. Pogo.com and AOL Games additionally provide opportunities to play for cash and prizes. Consider canning that World of Warcraft subscription too, with gratis multiplayer online universes like MapleStory, zOMG! and RuneScape worthy alternatives.
Never mind $60 epics like Resident Evil 5 either. Using digital distribution services such as Steam, Good Old Games, Impulse, GamersGate, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare, you can download arcade classics or first-run originals for just $5-15 without having to so much as stand up or put on pants. There’s even an online shop accessible from Nintendo’s new DSi handheld, letting you purchase games to go for under $8. Check out “Finding the Best Video Game Deals” for additional tips.
Thanks to lower operating costs and on-demand order fulfillment, Internet vendors frequently pass massive savings along. But the best deals often fly beneath the radar. With the Web at your fingertips though, it literally pays to do one’s homework. “Technology’s one of the best things that ever happened to bargain hunters,” says Mark McClusky, products editor for WIRED. “It’s hugely empowering, and forced retailers to compete more vigorously on prices.”
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