Dawn of the Age of Subscriptions

I’m a big fan of the show Gravity Falls, I’ve seen it a couple of times already. I also loved the movie Moana, and I still really wanna see Coco. And while I’m not too interested myself, friends keep recommending me the latest Star Wars shows and movies. Alas, if I want to watch any of these legally, I’ll probably have to pay for a subscription to Disney+ (thankfully I have a boyfriend who loves to pirate things). This got me thinking, isn’t this a really common thing these days, subscription services?

Nowadays it seems like almost every online service demands a subscription. Want to remove ads from YouTube and YouTube Music? That’s what YouTube Premium is for. Wanna watch shows like Sherlock, Dirk Gently, or the hugely popular Squid Game? You’ll be forking over money for a Netflix subscription. Wanna have fun with your friends on critically acclaimed MMORPG FFXIV Online? That’ll be €10 per month, then. From shopping services like Amazon to chat platforms like Discord, about every aspect of online life has a subscription hiding somewhere now, for one reason or another. I bet you, the person reading this, has at least one or two online subscriptions yourself of some kind. But why are companies doing this? And why do we keep falling for it?

The simple trick

Let me ask you a question: would you rather pay about €50 per week for dinner meals for you and your partner (a low-ball estimate), or pay €9.81 per meal for a HelloFresh subscription? The second one seems really tempting, right? After all, it’s so much lower than that scary first number! Of course, if you do the math, you’ll come out to a little under €60 for the HelloFresh subscription if you take their maximum offer of 6 days per week. But before you can rationalise that, your brain will probably have already led your hand to the “buy” button, cause that price is just so tempting. This is the basic trick a lot of subscription services like to exploit. Buying a €60 game? That seems like a big price tag, you should think before you buy that. But buying a €10 game and paying a €10 subscription per month to play it, like with FFXIV Online (expansions excluded. Unrealistic, I know)? That seems totally reasonable, go for it!

Do you see the trick? As long as the upfront cost seems low enough, the service can tempt you into impulse buying much more easily. And most subscription services employ this tactic, it’s what has made them so successful in the past few years. And the final puzzle piece, the reason why you keep paying for these subscriptions, is because you only consciously pay once, at the beginning. Every subsequent payment is automatically taken from your bank account, you don’t even think about it. This means you worry less about the money you spend on the service and makes you less likely to unsubscribe because you think it’s been costing you just a little too much money this year.

Is this bad?

The question remains now: is all this subscription service hype a bad thing? Sure, you end up spending more money in the long run, say if you were to use that HelloFresh subscription I mentioned earlier for a year straight. On the other hand, convenience costs money, and these subscriptions do give a lot of convenience with their services. You don’t have to worry about buying new Disney movies as long as you have Disney+, for example. And sometimes, you just want what a subscription service offers for a month or two, and that would make you a net profit in some situations. It’s not an easy question to answer at all. It’s something everyone has to make their own judgement on and vote for their preferred type of service with their wallets. The market will end up developing towards the more popular choice, as it always has.

Personally, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I have a lot of subscriptions running: Patreon, Discord Nitro, FFXIV Online (come play with me in Shiva – Light :D). But I’m also aware that I’m spending a substantial amount of money without so much as thinking about it this way, which can become dangerous if I don’t pay attention. But what do you think, dear reader? Will you choose Disney+, or the pirating bay?