Subscription is the new black 

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Geneva harbour light reflecting in the lake

I don’t know about you, but I am starting to feel subscription fatigue. There’s a limit to how many I can add to my credit card.

Bobby 460x0w

Following my good friend Loris’ advice, I’ve been tracking my subscriptions in Bobby and get notified you when a bill is due.

Subscriptions aren’t new

But they are becoming a kind of a catch-all business model today, as if it was the only viable business model left… is it really?

In the late 70’ties or early 80’ties, dad came home with our first video tape recorder, and beyond recording broadcast TV, we started to rent tapes. Shortly after, dad subscribed to a video store located in the Eaux-Vives. We could rent a number of VHS films a month, have differential access to just released blockbuster movies, etc. I have fond memories of bindging on horror and zombie movies with my little sister while our parents were on holiday in Cornwall.

For a time, we used to receive the daily newspaper «La Suisse» on weekends. Those are my oldest memories of media subscription.

For costs reasons, we had prepaid tickets to the swimming pool, prepaid ski lift rides that had to be punched each time.

My dad always leased our TV set (but never his car). TVs used to cost a bomb back in the day, and technology evolved fast from one year to the next (remember, we started off with 3 channels in black and white). Like everyone else, our telephone line and telephone set were rented.

As for music, I used to ride by bike down to one of our local record shops to discover, listen and buy my LPs and ride home ever so carefully as to not damage the cover or its vinyl disk.

I used to save up to buy my analogue photography films, and save up even more to have them processed and printed… Kodachrome C-41 colour slides prepaid processing was expensive upfront, but such a joy to send out in their little yellow sleeves seamlessly free of charge. I have years of slides waiting to be scanned.

Books we discovered and bought in a bookstore (I love bookstores) or borrowed at the library (still do). Second-hand books were a thing. My parents used to pick up a bunch of them at Plainpalais’ flee market on weekends.

Discovery was a thing. Record dealers got to know you and recommend albums you might like, cover art was all over the shop, and music was playing out loud… same went for books. There was something akin to a personal relation going on. No algorithm can beat personalised human curation.

We had a sense of ownership, and only bought what we could afford. I don’t think my parents owned credit cards yet. Did we spend less money? Probably.

Today, I have multiple streaming subscriptions for our movies, music, books, photos, news and software and internet access and services (VPN, accounting, analytics, hosting, password management, backup, file sharing, weather reports, mail, etc.).

I used to have a subscription for my black socks early 2000. They must have been amongst the first to develop that business model online.

Own your software

Apple is pushing for in-app purchases and subscriptions on every front, disregarding developers (and users sometimes) even more blatantly than usual. The App Store turmoil has reached a boiling point this summer stating with Hey.com, the congressional hearings on anti-trust and the Epic-Apple lawsuit.

Following the Tesla model, BMW want to sell you heated seats as a service (after trying to sell you a $180/year subscription for CarPlay).

Wait, what? In-app purchases for cars? Gaargl.

I don’t mind paying to help the news industry when the fee is reasonable. Journalists have their own bills to pay, just like developers have. But at the end of the day, I can’t subscribe to everything, I have to pick and choose.

Subscription business models are attractive to companies for obvious reasons. One of the biggest: subscriptions provide for annuity-like revenue streams that are highly predictable. With predictable revenue, companies can more easily invest in operations and innovation.
Patricio Robles for Econsultancy

When software is concerned, maybe offer both models (see iA’s blog entry below). Ownership and subscription. Sketch tries to do something along those lines. If you don’t renew your subscription, the app continues to work, but you can’t update it anymore (and hope you can still open files created with newer versions).

Making sense of it all

Again, I don’t mind paying subscriptions for essential apps we rely on such as 1Password (family), Encrypt.me (family) or ProtonVPN, Guardian Firewall, Apple Music (family), Backblaze or iCloud and Google Storage.

I also subscribe to Adobe Photographic Plan for Lightroom to manage my photos, but I’m looking to change.

I have a string of professional apps I use on a daily basis that fall in that same category, such as Dropbox (soon to be replaced by kDrive), DeployBot, Sketch, Harvest, Basecamp, Fathom Analytics, my mail and web hosting accounts (Fastmail and Infomaniak).

Then I have all the nice-to-have subscriptions, such as Netflix, AppleTV+, Disney+, PlexPass, Swisscom TV, WIRED Magazine, Heidi.news, The Guardian, New York Times, Radiotopia, Smashing Media, Ind.ie, Fantastical, FeedBin, Overcast, CARROT Weather, Weather Pro, Rain Today, Audible, Flickr, Vimeo, iTunes Match, Icomoon, Momento, and I must be forgetting some (and I don’t play games…).

iA Design Newsletter has a good take on the subscription model viewed from both the user and developer stand point.

Subscription is the new black, for businesses at least, but will this model resist this boom time as subscriptions flood the market from all sides?

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