Look after the pennies…

“In the current economic climate” it is important to watch your finances closely. Until recently I’ve been very skeptical of link aggregation sites and affiliate schemes but after a recommendation, and feeling the pinch, I signed up to Top CashBack to see if it was for real.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, cashback sites like this act as affiliates – directly or indirectly through affiliate networks – for online retailers and service providers. When you use the site to browse to these online merchants, any purchases you make are tagged as having come from the cashback site. The companies then pay a percentage or fixed amount to the referring site. Instead of pocketing the money for themselves, they give it back to you.

So far I’ve raised a few pence shy of £150 over a period of maybe a year. The things I’ve purchased are things I would have bought anyway, so I’ve only gained – just have to remember to go to the cashback site first. The larger cashbacks tend to be with insurance and utilities, so when it comes time for me to renew I’ll be looking out for the best combination of cashback and price. I’m hoping I’ll pass £200 before the end of the year.

It takes time for the money to become payable to you, but you can track the progress of your transactions and raise queries manually if something doesn’t track. The time to payment depends entirely on the retailer you’re purchasing from.

This site in particular is a good place to find offers and discount codes, and there is a very active forum community (although I don’t use that feature much).

It’s entirely free to use – no fees at all, and at the moment you get 101% of the cashback you earn (normally 100%). You can also invite friends and family, and receive a fixed bonus for each person who signs up. You can help me out by signing up through my referral URL of http://www.topcashback.co.uk/ref/killswtch and in turn I will have helped you by pointing you to this valuable resource 🙂

PlayDigital

I felt the urge today, as happens every now and again, to add to my music collection. Up to today my collection has consisted only of CDs, which I’ve ripped to MP3 for playback on my computer and my iPod. While I was looking around for albums to buy, I checked out Play.com to see how their prices compare to Amazon for some of the rarer albums.

Most of the albums I were after need to be imported, but earlier this week Play launched their own DRM-free download service. I managed to buy 3 albums by Ugress for £1.95 each! Up till now I’ve avoided download services because for only a few pounds more (or even a few pounds less) I can have a physical CD to serve as a backup and something to look at. The bargain download albums I found were just too good to pass up though, and since they are DRM-free I’m not restricted in any way with how I can play the tracks.

To keep the tracks safe, since there isnt a CD version, I’ve added them to their own folder on my fileserver. This folder will be added to the backup system, so they will be included in the daily tape backups.

Purchasing the albums is no different to the normal process on Play, and I included some CDs with my order that should arrive in a few days (Morcheeba – Dive Deep, Plaid – Spokes, Plaid – Rest Proof Clockwork). After going through the checkout process, the confirmation screen is slightly different and 2 emails are sent – one for the physical goods and one for the downloads. A list of all purchased tracks is available in the ‘My Account’ section of the site, where the tracks can be downloaded individually or in one big zip file including album art.

Downloading of the zip file is streamed, so you don’t get any indication of the size of the file as it is downloading (since the size of the file is not known when the HTTP response headers are sent) but the speed was pretty impressive. I got 1MB/sec+ (not Mbit – I’m on a 20Mbit connection) which would probably have maxed out my connection if I weren’t downloading/uploading other things at the time. As the popularity of this service increases, I suspect that the download rates will drop in a similar way that iTunes-hosted downloads can sometimes slow to a crawl.

One criticism of the ‘download-everything’ zip file is that the tracks are not separated into directories, so I had to manually separate out my 3 albums. This could be for some compatibility reason, or just that the developers didn’t know how to add folders to a zip file. I’ve programmatically created zip files at work using SharpZip, and the process of adding folders is not as straightforward as you might expect.

Overall I think the service is great value for money. It competes well with iTunes, at 9p cheaper per track and with some real bargains for albums if you look around. The Play site could still do with a few extra features to make browsing a little easier, such as deeper categorisation, easy access to albums by artist, the ability to order by price, and the ability to browse categories rather than just getting a summary of what’s popular, new etc.