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May 6, 2018 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Subscription Hell: "This time, it’s Bloomberg, which announced that it would be adding a comprehensive paywall to its news service and television channel...That’s not the only subscription coming up though. Now Facebook is considering adding an ad-free subscription option." As virtually every product and service becomes "subscriptionalized," what does that mean for us?

Subscription Psycho : Analysis Of The Subscription Economy & Its Bad Actors

"The subscription shuffle is the art of migrating the perpetually licensed customers that you originally built your business on, into a recurring revenue stream using a subscription model because you can."

"Subscriptions are actually brilliant for lots of different products and services, the subscription model was first pioneered by magazines, for as long as you subscribed, the magazine kept on arriving. But before long they were joined by others as the subscription model spread to other industries, where offering a subscription to your service naturally made sense to customers."


Another Great App Went Subscription Only and Everything Is Terrible

"I blame Adobe for this. Ulysses, one of the best writing tools available right now, is going subscription only. If you previously purchased Ulysses for Mac or iOS (it works seamlessly across Macs, iPhones, and iPads) you are now going to have to pony up $5 a month or $40 a year in order to enjoy any new features the development team might roll out for the software."

"Back in 2013 Adobe moved its most valuable software, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere, to a subscription only model. If you want to use the industry standard software Adobe creates you have to throw down $10 to $50 a month. It’s been a sore point for many a computer user who still remembers the halcyon days when purchasing software meant you, essentially, owned it."


From coffee to condoms, now there's a subscription service for everyone (on subscription boxes)

"BLAME IT ON Amazon, or on our increasing need to have everything work as fast and conveniently as our smartphones do, but subscription services boomed among consumers and the startup set in 2012. Sending some piece of fruit or bottle of wine at a regular cadence in the mail isn't a new business model, but the latest crop of subscription services are tackling a wider set of our earthly desires and needs. From fresh razors in your mailbox to a mystery box of handmade goods, this has been the year of getting things delivered to your house automatically."

Will All Companies Go to a Subscription Model?

"In November Zuora released its Subscription Economy Index (SEI), which tracks the growth of subscription-based companies compared to major indices that measure the performance of the broader economy. The SEI is populated with data on clients’ sales — from the beginning of 2012 to the present — that flow through Zuora’s platform.

Are you ready for this? In the almost five-year time frame monitored by the SEI, the “subscription economy,” if you will, has grown 900% faster than sales per share among S&P 500 companies, 420% faster than U.S. retail sales, and 500% faster than the U.S. economy."
posted by hexaflexagon (66 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was happy when YNAB went subscription because they were small and I knew my money was helping them make a better version (and they've done a LOT great improvements).

Facebook should give us all a year or 10 free and stop selling our info if we want.
posted by sio42 at 12:01 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


I’ll pay a small amount to get all the ads out of my damn FB feed.
posted by Melismata at 12:03 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


However I will take issue with magazines being the pioneer of subscriptions. Books were originally funded by subscription. Dickens and Hugo wrote some of their masterpieces on that model which is why the chapters are often neatly stories.

Wasn't quite the same as serialised because they hadn't written the work ahead of time and it was released in portions... They were able to keep going because people subscribed.
posted by sio42 at 12:03 PM on May 6 [10 favorites]


I’ll pay a small amount to get all the ads out of my damn FB feed.

On a computer (as opposed to phone/tablet) ublock does a good-enough job. Especially if you use

https://www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr

to get in. This sends you straight to the most-recent feed, which also mostly bypasses their terrible algorithm... for now.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:17 PM on May 6 [22 favorites]


I’ll pay a small amount to get all the ads out of my damn FB feed.

I’m kind of surprised FB hasn’t begun blocking access if you’re running an ad blocker. It seems to be a growing tactic for sites.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:17 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


I would happily pay for a subscription facebook if it meant that they deleted all of my information and for as long as I paid them, they did not collect any more. There's the whole "if you're not paying, you're the product, not the customer" thing and I would be happy to pay to stop being the product. But to just stop getting ads? I'm still a fucking product there, just one that they're holding in the back.
posted by Hactar at 12:28 PM on May 6 [44 favorites]


^ what Hactar said. Unless all the metadata is scrubbed/not collected, I'm still a product, whether I'm visible or not, doesn't matter. I'm still being sold and commodified (or rather the digital self I call "me" on FB)...

You either do it right or you don't. Knowing how they are, and the demands of Wall Street, it will fail, and they will probably take home the wrong message something like - "WELP! I GUESS PEOPLE WANT ADS!"
posted by symbioid at 12:30 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


As virtually every product and service becomes "subscriptionalized," what does that mean for us?

Maybe... just maybe, it means the beginning of the end of a media landscape saturated by ads.

Just kidding. Today, ad-free subscriptions. Tomorrow, subscriptions AND ads.
posted by tclark at 12:30 PM on May 6 [46 favorites]


I think an app subscription, when paired up with regular updates, and priced reasonably is fine. For example, an app I use _daily_ on my iPhone called Drafts, just got a major update with a ton of new features and a subscription plan. It's $20 a year, which, considering that I've bought every version of the app since it first came out, and it's easily worth $20 (to me) to buy a new version, I'll happily pay $20 a year for a subscription. Similarly, I pay $10 a year for Overcast, the best podcast app for iOS, because the features I get (no ads, and supporting regular updates) are worth that on an annual basis. In both of these cases, it's basically buying a new version of the app every year.

On the other hand, another app I use regularly, TextExpander, switched to a subscription model a couple years ago. I haven't bought, and I'm sticking with the old version for as long as I can. Basically, the new version hasn't added any new features I want or need, and forces you to use their own service to keep your text snippets in sync. The previous version lets me sync via iCloud Drive or Dropbox (I use iCloud), and works perfectly. I don't need to "share" with anyone. There's no benefit to me subscribing.

1Password, another app I use every day, has a subscription option that comes with their own synchronization service, but they didn't remove the ability to sync via iCloud or Dropbox. So, I've updated the app, and will continue to, but there's no real need for me to subscribe, and they're just fine with that. That's doing it right. The app still works the way I like and need it, without forcing me into a subscription. The Day One journaling app did something similar when they went subscription.

I don't know if I would pay for Facebook, mostly because I don't like Facebook as a company or as a service, and would like to see them die a quick, but still painful, death.

---

As for subscriptions in general, I don't like it as a general trend, but when it works out in the customer's favor (a price equivalent or less than to what you would normally spend per-year on the product.) But that's going to be rare—see the conundrums I've had with software and service subscriptions. Far too many companies are going to do subscriptions the way, say, a gym membership works: where they make it difficult, if not impossible, to cancel, and the price is so high that you need to work at it to get your money's worth. (And I have a gym membership I pay $55 a month for, mostly because it's right across the street from work, and I can't avoid going there.)
posted by SansPoint at 12:37 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Thorzdad: I'm also surprised they haven't broken Social Fixer browser plugin, which makes the browser Facebook experience suck a lot less. Tumblr did it to the "Missing e" browser plugin, and the Tumblr experience has not improved in the slightest since then.
posted by SansPoint at 12:39 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


The bill has come due on all those free services. Probably a good thing as it will make room for some startups to compete by offering their free services versus subscriptisized ones.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:41 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Is this the place where I come to complain that I can't RTFA's y'all link to the NYT, Bloomberg, etc., because I can't afford all of the subscription costs?
posted by Lynsey at 12:55 PM on May 6 [16 favorites]


Nah the subscription will just be used as another way to extract wealth from people as a tax to a company on parpicpating in society.
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on May 6 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the problem is a lot of us don’t actually want those new services, we just want them to fix their major bugs. Which was always a free thing software sellers provided, because it meant they had provided a defective product in the first place. Now you have to subscribe if you want them to fix major problems.
posted by corb at 12:57 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Lynsey: Go into your browser privacy settings and disable all cookies from nytimes.com

Voila: unlimited, free New York Times articles.
posted by SansPoint at 12:57 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


corb: or, in the case of Adobe, subscribe if you want to vainly hope that they’ll fix problems. They rely on the cancellation penalty and marketshare to turn this into an expanded customer milking operation.
posted by adamsc at 1:02 PM on May 6


A couple of years ago, we switched Zombies, Run! from being a paid app with IAPs for new seasons, to a subscription-based service costing (now) $25 a year. The subscription allows us to pay not just for the cost of developing new content and features, but also the very significant costs of just keeping the app running on the latest versions of iOS and Android; not to mention working properly on new phone sizes and supporting basic new OS functions.

I’m not sure whether people realise quite how much work it is to just keep *exactly the same app* working over time. There is always something in new iOS and Android versions that breaks our app (and other devs’ apps); and particularly on Android, new phones will often also break things.

The simple fact is that most indie app developers are not swimming in cash, and that if thy decide to switch to subscriptions, usually it’s not out of a desire to squeeze every last penny out of users, but just to keep the lights on and not be continually terrified that tomorrow may bring zero sales.
posted by adrianhon at 1:19 PM on May 6 [46 favorites]


There is a good point here, that's been touched upon: for services like Facebook, which are (unfortunately) like indoor plumbing in that you can live without it but doing so is a huge pain in the ass, having it be free opens it up to a large number of people who would otherwise not have access at all. Privacy should not be a luxury good.
posted by SansPoint at 1:21 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Just kidding. Today, ad-free subscriptions. Tomorrow, subscriptions AND ads.

Anyone else here old enough to remember when they told us that if we paid for TV, then we wouldn't have to watch commercials? Isn't that how cable TV got their nose in the door?
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:21 PM on May 6 [62 favorites]


hexaflexagon: ""Back in 2013 Adobe moved its most valuable software, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere, to a subscription only model. If you want to use the industry standard software Adobe creates you have to throw down $10 to $50 a month. It’s been a sore point for many a computer user who still remembers the halcyon days when purchasing software meant you, essentially, owned it."

This might end up being a serious mis step for Adobe long term. It has given a serious boost the to marketability of alternatives that cost less than a year's subscription.
posted by Mitheral at 1:22 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


I’ll pay a small amount to get all the ads out of my damn FB feed.

Fluff Busting Purify ( Facebook ) in the browser. Privacy badger and adblock+ on the browser, and a Pi-hole dns server, blocking blacklisted sites, and I don't see ads on Facebook.

I'm bailing on them because I just don't like the place they created.
posted by mikelieman at 1:30 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Bloomberg has a very, very deep well of super-premium content -- i.e., the content side of the Bloomberg Professional Service which costs $25,000 per person per year. (Bloomberg Professional Service also includes a very, very large raft of analytical tools, security pricing / marketing tools, and communications tools for which there are exceptionally strong network effects.)

I suspect this move is about enabling the company to free up chunk of the super-premium content - and a step on the way towards the company's Holy Grail -- a "Bloomberg Lite" that has a very profitable mass(ish) subscriber base without cannibalizing any of the $25k subscribers.
posted by MattD at 1:40 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Right now I have $5/mo recurring donations set up for Metafilter and the Archive of Our Own. Without question, I am getting much more than my money's worth from both.

Everything else is getting measured against the standard of 'do I get more use or enjoyment out of this than MeFi or AO3?' and I'm not sure that too many things will pass that test.

(on the other hand I just started offering a handmade earring of the month subscription via Etsy, and the first month is 2/3 sold out and the next two months are nearly halfway there. so I can't complain too much. I think it helps that each month has a weird SF-nal theme?)
posted by nonasuch at 1:42 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


A couple of years ago, we switched Zombies, Run! from being a paid app with IAPs for new seasons, to a subscription-based service costing (now) $25 a year.

Zombies, Run is one of my favorite apps of all time - it’s a thing that got me out of the house when I had time for the gym to actually work out, it made my life significantly less miserable. So I respect you guys and take the time to hear you: that is useful data.

But I think one thing that you did right and other app developers sometimes do wrong, is that you still allow existing people who purchased their app before you made the shift to subscription, to use the app. The thing that annoys me and many other people is when a developer charges a price, we buy the app assuming this means we will be able to continue to use it, and then it changes such that we can’t use it anymore - despite often being part of the fan base that helped ensure the success of the app, often by serious proselytizing. It feels like a bait-and-switch.
posted by corb at 1:43 PM on May 6 [15 favorites]


My micropayment idea is to have Facebook put a 10 second delay in, during which you can pay a nickel not to see the ad by clicking on it and having your card linked. See maybe a text description of the ad before the ad itself so you can choose if you're actually maybe interested in the thing. You see fewer ads, the cost is offset, and the few ads that you do see are worth much more to advertisers.

It'd probably be a hellish UX too, but that's Facebook's brand.
posted by klangklangston at 1:46 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


> klangklangston:
"My micropayment idea is to have Facebook put a 10 second delay in, during which you can pay a nickel not to see the ad by clicking on it and having your card linked. See maybe a text description of the ad before the ad itself so you can choose if you're actually maybe interested in the thing. You see fewer ads, the cost is offset, and the few ads that you do see are worth much more to advertisers.

It'd probably be a hellish UX too, but that's Facebook's brand."


Yeah, except for those of us too poor for cards, who get locked out of the whole kibosh.
posted by Samizdata at 1:56 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


> nonasuch:
"Right now I have $5/mo recurring donations set up for Metafilter and the Archive of Our Own. Without question, I am getting much more than my money's worth from both.

Everything else is getting measured against the standard of 'do I get more use or enjoyment out of this than MeFi or AO3?' and I'm not sure that too many things will pass that test.

(on the other hand I just started offering a handmade earring of the month subscription via Etsy, and the first month is 2/3 sold out and the next two months are nearly halfway there. so I can't complain too much. I think it helps that each month has a weird SF-nal theme?)"


I would love to donate to MeFi, but, once again, too poor so no plastic.
posted by Samizdata at 1:58 PM on May 6


Tomorrow, subscriptions AND ads.
Tomorrow? That has been the business model for newspapers and magazines since long before the oldest MeFite was born. When so much of the News on MeFi comes from media entities whose 'core model' is still the paper subscription, the more that online access brings us closer to subscriptions AND ads. It is also no coincidence that so much of the content comes from New York City-based entities, where the super-capitalism and corruption runs so deep that they didn't even notice the mob-based business of Trump until he moved his headquarters to DC. But I digress.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:59 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


From an outsider's perspective of the software world, I think the subscription model makes a lot of sense given the work it takes to release fixes and updates. It gives an incentive (and financial security) for the developer to keep pushing updates and make the software better. I imagine with the older, monolithic release system users expected big new features in order to buy the latest version, and from the developer's perspective existing users on the earlier version were like "sunk customers" who you would only support for the purpose of getting them to buy the new version. However the "buy one and done" model is great for the user for software like...Office 2003 or the old Photoshops that just kept getting the job done for years on end without reason to upgrade. But that lack of buying the new stuff was probably a major cause for the developers to switch to the subscription model...

For Paid Facebook, I've read a few things to consider, but I'm not sure if they're just reflexive pushbacks for the purpose of debate. First, Facebook's revenues per user from ads have grown kind of exponentially up to about $20 now on average and will continue growing. So the price point they'd have to charge for the paid service would have to factor that in. Second, I've read the ad model relies on the wealthier users to subsidize the poorer ones, where ads to the wealthy bring in more revenues. The catch-22 is that the wealthier users would be the quickest to sign up for the paid version and ditch ads, so how does that hurt the ad model and cut the user base, etc.

And with news like NYT and Bloomberg, the social calculus continues to just be complicated as hell. Do we put up paywalls on our news outlets-of-record and shut out the majority of people from the well reported news? More directly, if Breitbart is free but the Post is paid, what could that mean for society and our democracy (sorry, everything is political in 2018) when readers rely on less-reputable but free outlets? But then again newspapers-of-record have always been paid (correct me if I'm wrong)?
posted by hexaflexagon at 2:11 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


My concern with subscriptions is, as currently implemented, they strongly encourage payment centralization: you don't want every random $1/month service to have your credit card, so you go through Google or Amazon or Apple, and they charge a 30% tax for the privilege in addition to seeing all your purchasing history.
posted by Pyry at 2:57 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Honest question: does this mean you object to subscribing to anything, then?
posted by adrianhon at 3:21 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Oh I don't have anything against subscriptions in principle, and in fact I think they have a lot of advantages. But I think we have to be clear about the fact that a world that moves more in favor of subscriptions is also one in which the big tech companies are even more central in every aspect of digital life, in which they collect rents on both the production side through cloud services and on the consumption side through their marketplaces and app stores, and in which they can exert enormous pressure by determining who gets access to both. When Steam (/Google/Amazon/Apple) can take away your important subscription software on a whim, well, that's a powerful incentive to stay on their good side.
posted by Pyry at 3:39 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


The author of the TechCrunch article complains that "the web’s promise of instant and free access to the world’s information appears to be dying", but I think that dream was always on borrowed time. New content -- journalism, art, software, whatever -- requires resources to produce in the form of labor or materials.

We've been living in this weird era as content producers have been trying to make it work online with just advertising, and we get all these things for "free". And the result has been that these producers have been struggling to stay afloat, while the advertising industry has centralized and developed massive surveillance tools to be profitable.

One-time payments work when you're spending enough to make transaction costs worthwhile: a book, or a movie, or a really good app. But no one has found a way to make micropayments work, so "pay as you go" doesn't scale down to a small payment for one newspaper article or a 5 minute YouTube video or whatever.

So... for anything smaller than a full book or whatever, you get subscriptions. And I prefer it that way. I pay for a couple of streaming services, and subscribe to a few newspapers, and that's where I get 90%+ of my new TV or journalism. I have a few apps I pay a subscription fee for, because I want to get the security updates or new features. If I don't have a subscription to a given source, I mostly do without it.

It's a model that looks a lot like what my parents did before the Web: they subscribed to a single-digit number of magazines and newspapers which arrived physically, and had cable TV, and bought books and used the library. The Web means I can get all those things delivered instantly, and deal with less waste and fewer bulky materials. But I don't think the Web changes the economic model in the long term.
posted by fencerjimmy at 4:09 PM on May 6 [12 favorites]


Lately I've been feeling like I should be subscribing to a few thoughtfully-chosen sites/magazines/etc instead of taking whatever the hell bubbles up on Twitter, MeFi, or Reddit. I have enough money to do this; incentivizing the creation of something deeper than "what gets the most ad views" would be pretty nice.

Not everything needs to be on a subscription, though. I live in a walkable part of the city; I can maintain my own damn shopping list and replace things when they run out. And my PS4 is currently trying to get me to re-subscribe to PS+; I decided that I did not like a constant source of free video games in my life.

Software subscriptions are kind of iffy. It's really hard to offer enough value for what they tend to want, especially given how feature-packed the tools asking for those usually are. I'm currently paying for the full Adobe subscription but I may be changing that now that they're bumping the price. I doubt I'd bring any new subscription-only programs into my life.
posted by egypturnash at 4:37 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I'm still using Adobe Photoshop CS6 because I don't want to pay a subscription fee and all the features I need are in that version. I stopped using Lightroom for this reason too. So Adobe essentially lost me as a customer.

I got really angry at first when 1Password went to subscription, but they did keep the ability to just buy the software, which was good. I can see why companies want to move to subscription plans, but when the subscription ends up costing the user a lot more over the same time period, you can understand the anger.
posted by gen at 4:44 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


Screw ads - I would literally pay Facebook to see updates from everyone/thing I like or follow, unedited, in chronological order.
posted by smoke at 4:55 PM on May 6 [9 favorites]


The author of the TechCrunch article complains that "the web’s promise of instant and free access to the world’s information appears to be dying", but I think that dream was always on borrowed time. New content -- journalism, art, software, whatever -- requires resources to produce in the form of labor or materials.

We've been living in this weird era as content producers have been trying to make it work online with just advertising, and we get all these things for "free". And the result has been that these producers have been struggling to stay afloat...


Indeed, and thank you for pointing that out. As one of those content producers, I've had to make extremely painful sacrifices to keep writing web content "for free" over the years. That said, things are finally looking up for me these days, in part because I publish a newsletter through Substack, a self-publishing platform with no advertising that provides a way for my readers to pay me directly. It's like Bandcamp, but for writers. I love it, and I sincerely hope their direct subscription model continues to spread.

I happened to acquire a copy of Photoshop on disc in 2012, just before Adobe started requiring monthly subscriptions for it. As a result, I've been able to teach myself Photoshop skills throughout my leanest years, without having to pay for it every month. If that bit of lucky timing hadn't happened, I wouldn't have been able to learn Photoshop at all - certainly not well enough to create the images that played a part in getting me hired on as a full-time paid professional freelance writer in 2017.

Umair Haque calls the hidden costs behind the "free" web digital violence. To wit:
We’re used to thinking of all the free stuff on the web as costless. But it’s just not true. What is presented to us as “free” has huge negative externalities — hidden costs: human, social, and political ones. It’s not as simple as “if it’s free, you’re the product”. I’d say: if it’s free, look for what’s being swept under the rug. If we value the web, we are going to have to think much more carefully about what “free” really means — because when “free” means “hacking democracy”, it just might be unaffordable. Facebook earns a few billion in profit — is that really worth democracy, happiness, trust, and freedom? Those are the economics of social media, broken down for you in the truest terms. [...]

What’s the answer to this game? Simple. If you value the web, pay for it.
posted by velvet winter at 5:03 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


To build on the above I think people such as the TechCrunch journalist are quick to see the "everything is free on the Internet, what a great thing!" which, yeah, it's clearly a revolutionary and good thing etc but the underlying reason it's free is a double-edged sword. It's brought about a massive incomprehensible amount of people posting stuff and vying for clicks and eyeballs. It's the ultimate race to the bottom especially in the creative domains where it's hard to differentiate the value of Person Z's content against Person Y's. We kind of collectively benefit and struggle due to this overwhelming amount of content. In Econ 101 terms the internet platforms have created the biggest markets between producers and consumers in the history of the world, with the infrastructure paid for by advertisers. But with infinite supply the price gets driven to zero.

I think the subscription model is a small step but in the right direction at attempting to fix this problem. Even if it gets people to start thinking about the value of the content they're getting and the labor that goes into making it. The ad model abstracts and centralizes the producer-consumer relationship. Abstracting by putting the reader's "payments" in the hands of the advertiser and centralizing by steering the producers to certain platforms. Subscriptions connects the producer and consumer directly and at least forces us to think about that.

The internet has really just ballooned these multisided markets to a massive scale. That's not surprising; of course the Internet was designed to connect us. The biggest internet companies are just that- multisided markets connecting producer and consumer: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Netflix, and so on. When those markets are scaled to Internet size we create big fundamental societal problems we need to to address, and how we work out the answer is going to define the next several decades.
posted by hexaflexagon at 5:04 PM on May 6


"Just kidding. Today, ad-free subscriptions. Tomorrow, subscriptions AND ads."

AKA why I don't have cable. I'll pay for things, OR I'll watch ads, I won't do both.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:31 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


If you value the web, pay for it.

and what does the monthly cable bill do?

the real problem with the subscription model is that it privileges people who are able to actually invest the time and money involved in running subscription services (or paying middlepeople who do) over the rest of us who can't, causing some voices to be heard over others - not to mention that the inevitable result is we will have less choice in what we access because we can't afford to subscribe to anything and everything

there's also a danger where news services are concerned - one can insist that people should be paid for journalism and news communication through subscription - but what if some people decide that offering free "news" and "journalism" that will create political support for their agendas is payment enough?

that's partially what turned am radio into a right wing wasteland - radio stations realized they could cut music from their programming and just have people talking who cost less than royalties

it's dangerous to create a vacuum that bullshit can rush into and if a significant amount of the news media do this, that's what will happen

frankly, i miss the old web
posted by pyramid termite at 5:54 PM on May 6 [15 favorites]


Other issues aside, subscription services really seem to me to be designed for salaried people. It I was on a stable, yearly wage, then all these subscription services could be budgeted for and I wouldn't have to constantly be cancelling and restarting services based on whether I am getting a wage this week. They just don't seem suited to those of us whose employment ) income streams are unstable, varying from week to week and stopping for a month (+) at a time between jobs.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:58 PM on May 6 [9 favorites]


I pay for everything that will let me pay for it as long as I can get rid of ads. If Facebook and Instagram would charge me for no ads and chronological order I’d be all over it. I’d especially love it if Twitter would let me pay for a non garbage version of their service too. As it is if they break Tweetbot and force me to the web version I’m done with them completely.
posted by mikesch at 6:04 PM on May 6


Isn't that how cable TV got their nose in the door?

Maybe when HBO went live, but I can't see how this was true for any other cable channel, what would they fill those 24 hours with?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:36 PM on May 6


They just don't seem suited to those of us whose employment ) income streams are unstable, varying from week to week and stopping for a month (+) at a time between jobs.

This is an important point. It's also not uncommon to see subscriptions that offer a cheaper price with an annual commitment and a higher one for month-to-month. That's understandable from the perspective of a business who wants to incentivize a steady stream of revenue for themselves, but it amounts to charging people more if they can't afford the year's payment or to be locked into a commitment. It's yet another system that penalizes you for not having the cash.
posted by zachlipton at 8:04 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


the subscription model was first pioneered by magazines, for as long as you subscribed, the magazine kept on arriving

The difference is that the New Yorker doesn't come into my apartment and confiscate the pile of back issues on my coffee table if I stop paying them. The cheese of the month club doesn't magically make my Gouda turn rancid when I cancel. But if I cancel Creative Cloud, Adobe deactivates my software and leaves me with no way to open my documents.

Letting them get away with calling it a subscription instead of rent was a mistake.
posted by zachlipton at 8:21 PM on May 6 [38 favorites]


we will have less choice in what we access because we can't afford to subscribe to anything and everything

No, of course we can't afford to subscribe to everything. Nevertheless, creators also need to get paid to survive. Right now, as Umair Haque writes in the article on digital violence that I linked above, creators themselves are disproportionately bearing the burden of the hidden costs of a "free" web. As long as we collectively choose not to pay for things on the web because we've come to expect them for free, many creators will continue to be deprived of the funding necessary to sustain their work at the level readers expect.

So if we value things on the web - if we value the creators behind them - then we should accept that we must find workable ways to pay for them, including subscriptions. That’s fine for those who can afford it. But what about those who can’t?

In my own case, the way I handle my newsletter on Substack is to offer two subscription tiers: an all-access publicly available tier (that sounds better to me than "free tier," given the amount of labor I put into it) and a paid tier. I make it clear to my readers that there will never be any advertising, pressure, or guilt-tripping, and it's easy for them to unsubscribe. Either way, both tiers get something engaging to read every month. I release some of my best and most in-depth writing to the all-access tier, so nobody gets shortchanged.

I realize this model doesn't really address the problem of readers having an income stream that fluctuates too widely for a steady paid subscription, but at least it delivers some quality writing each month to those who don't pay. My readers who do pay are subsidizing my work for the ones who don't.
posted by velvet winter at 9:00 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


But if I cancel Creative Cloud, Adobe deactivates my software and leaves me with no way to open my documents.

That's not entirely true. If you safe the files in a format compatible with another program, they'll work just fine.

While I was originally dismayed by the new Adobe model, it makes sense. It frees Adobe from having to time "big" releases in a way to maximize profit, so they can innovate any time. In addition, people who want the latest and greatest find that the subscription model can actually be cheaper. This is not true, of course, if you upgrade infrequently.

I don't think it's ideal in every case, but for my use, I'm happy with how Adobe is managing the model so far.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:10 PM on May 6


My work pays for Acrobat Pro. I also use Photoshop and InDesign... from CS2, because I can get those for free (when they stopped upgrading the verification servers, they gave out free install codes so people who had older software could keep it installed on newer computers). I'd love a newer version of InDesign, but not at $20/month. (I'm waiting to have enough spare money to find a copy of CS4, 5, or 6 somewhere.) I wouldn't mind the new version - but ID isn't backwards compatible at all (if you save a file in CS3, you can't open it in CS2 later; if you save it in CS5, you can't open it in CS4, and so on), so I'm wary of upgrading to a subscription, because once I do that, there's no going back.

I am not "people who want the latest and greatest." (I am not fond of "oh hey we took away your keyboard controls for this feature because some people found it confusing.") There are a few features of CS3 that I've used and really miss, and a few introduced in CS4 that I'd love to try. I don't actually need CS5 or 6, much less the ever-changing CC environment. If Adobe actually had an interest in customer needs instead of squeezing every last penny out of the corporate marketplace, they'd offer a stable no-upgrades version for perma-sale.

My workplace recently sent out an email: Justify your continued use of Adobe Acrobat Pro, or lose it. They're not being strict, just saying, "hey if you installed this and never actually do anything with it, we're going to take it away now." But that's definitely why Adobe changed it - not because "users want the newest without waiting for special releases," but because large corporations will subscribe for hundreds or thousands of installations, and they'll get a lot more than they would from a single sale for each of those.

Probably in direct competition to Adobe, Autodesk has started distributing Sketchbook for free. The Enterprise version and a premium version still cost, but the now-free version isn't the bare-bones stripped-down version that is often the freebie to convince you to buy; it's their former subscription version.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:56 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


Technically, Patreon is a subscription aggregator service.

So if we value things on the web - if we value the creators behind them - then we should accept that we must find workable ways to pay for them, including subscriptions.

There's a hidden assumption here, that what is valuable can be expressed in terms of currency. That's not the case - several people have tried to set up competitors to Wikipedia where contributors get paid, but the satisfaction of contributing to an authoritative resource is an intrinsic motivation, and it's easily crushed by doing the same thing for pennies.

I've wondered if the world wide web would be better if we stopped trying to use it to make money, and left it as a backwater for enthusiasts and hobbyists.
posted by Merus at 11:02 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


There's a hidden assumption here, that what is valuable can be expressed in terms of currency. That's not the case - several people have tried to set up competitors to Wikipedia where contributors get paid, but the satisfaction of contributing to an authoritative resource is an intrinsic motivation, and it's easily crushed by doing the same thing for pennies.

I agree that in many cases intrinsic motivation can be crowded out or otherwise harmed by introducing financial rewards (this essay serves as a good example), but I definitely did not intend to imply that what is valuable can always be expressed monetarily.

In fact, I recently stated that
"...when I wrote that there are good reasons my creative work “should probably remain unpaid,” I didn’t mean my creative work is unworthy of payment. I'm talking about motivation. I mean that financial motives (or any motive that does not respect the integrity of daimonic forces) can compromise the integrity of creative work. [...]

"My preference would be to receive unconditional income sufficient to allow me to work for no pay, rather than to receive direct payment for it. I have strong sources of intrinsic motivation to do creative work already, so I don't need money as a motivator. But I do need it for material sustenance, so as long as I live in a world that requires me to "earn a living," I must seek payment for it and/or maintain a day job for income."
posted by velvet winter at 11:44 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


One issue I haven’t seen mentioned is that it’s so embarassingly easy to forget that you subscribed to something, and then one day as you finally get to check your order history in paypal or the google play store or your credit card statements online or whatever, you find oops, when did I sign up for this app or web service that I forgot about and why am I still paying for it without even noticing?! Maybe you got one of those "free for a month cancel anytime" offers and you forgot to cancel, maybe you thought you’d try it for a few months and then forgot about it, maybe it was such a small sum or looked like such a small sum and then all those small sums add up and you find you’ve spent in a year the equivalent of a new phone or tablet... And then you feel stupid, and yes you’ve been stupid because you should be checking all your accounts and statements regularly but life is short and you’re only human and stuff happens and you can’t be the only one who made the same mistake, especially now as more and more services and apps and content is subscription-based, there’s just so much stuff it’s easier to lose track.

I’d bet there is a non insignificant amount of people out there who subscribe to something and then forget about it, I’d bet that this "susbcribed and forgot about it" phenomeon has been observed and studied by marketing people and is a part of the pull towards a subscription model. I know this doesn’t invalidate all use of a subscription model and it’s not the responsibility of the service providers to make sure you keep track but hmm maybe it’d be good practice for content and service providers to send more reminders to subscribers who haven’t been active in using their accounts. Some do this already. Most are all too happy to let you forget.

Another issue I haven’t seen mentioned - and one of most annoying things about subscriptions - is when online newspapers and magazines switch to a paywall and then ALL their previous content gets locked behind the paywall, so say you’re not even browsing their websites but some other website or blog or magazine that has a link to an article from years ago that is now, oops, locked behind a paywall. A good practice for newspapers and magazines would be to leave older pre-paywall content accessible, people who are inclined to subscribe will still sign up for newer content but at least don’t break the old links! Is it too much to ask?
posted by bitteschoen at 12:40 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I'll accept the subscription economy as soon as the universal basic income becomes a reality.

If companies want steady guaranteed cash flow, why shouldn't the customers want one? Especially as those same companies push the gig economy at the same time.

It was obvious the age of free would have to come to an end, but I will remain opposed to a subscription to products which I use very infrequently. I'm afraid users like me will generate demand for hourly/daily software rentals.
posted by Laotic at 3:16 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Anyone else here old enough to remember when they told us that if we paid for TV, then we wouldn't have to watch commercials?

Yup. Cable: Subscription TV.

It didn't work, folks.
posted by filtergik at 3:51 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Subscriptions also start to add up. Ten dollars a month isn't feasible for more than a few things, if that.
posted by kokaku at 5:56 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Verizon cut off access Bloomberg TV (station 105) this year stating that they weren't going to continue to provide a "free station". Looks like B-berg gets the last laugh.
posted by mfoight at 6:21 AM on May 7


Two print magazines I subscribe to used to include access to the digital version of their magazines and archives, but recently both decided that print and digital were two completely different things and therefore now require expensive and separate subscriptions for both. I get all the arguments that can be made for doing this, but the "Oh, what used to you $X will now cost you more than $2X" routine has a slight whiff of rent-seeking about it.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:37 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


The Web means I can get all those things delivered instantly, and deal with less waste and fewer bulky materials. But I don't think the Web changes the economic model in the long term.

One thing I think is playing into this is the lack of willingness of companies to be transparent about how much profit their model makes them.

When we received physical copies of things, we all understood it costs serious money to print things and deliver them to doors. And because we understood that, we didn’t look too deeply into how the model worked - whether 50 cents a paper actually was a reasonable estimate of costs plus a small profit or not. We knew that there were serious expenses, and we were willing to contribute to those.

But I actually don’t know how many contributors the NYT, say, has on staff, nor how much they are paid, nor if they are paid by the word or on salary, nor how much they take in on ads and print subscriptions. So I actually have no way to evaluate whether it is fair to essentially charge me the price of several newspapers because I looked at a few articles. Right now, if you’re not using workarounds, you need a subscription once you’ve read 11 articles - which are far fewer than are contained in one newspaper. If you want to read one entire newspapers worth of info from the NYT, you need to pay their 8-13$ monthly digital subscription fee despite one individual paper newspaper costing between 50 cents and a dollar.

Because I have no transparency on their finances, I have no idea if that’s reasonable because they pay their writers healthy wages and need to recoup, or they’re just trying to squeeze blood from a stone to increase the profit margin. And the thing is - I’m far, far more willing to engage in the one than the other - but since I don’t know which is which, I’m not willing to engage at all.
posted by corb at 8:13 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


When we received physical copies of things, we all understood it costs serious money to print things and deliver them to doors.

Yes, we all "understood" this, even though it's actually a complete misperception. The reality has always been that the actual cost of physical media has been a small fraction of the underlying cost of its production.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:28 AM on May 7


When we received physical copies of things, we all understood it costs serious money to print things and deliver them to doors.

I dunno, free newspapers exist, profitably enough that they can pay people to hand deliver papers to commuters at subway stations. Mind you, they mostly consist of stories straight from the AP wire. Good reporters are more expensive than paper.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:58 AM on May 7


So I actually have no way to evaluate whether it is fair to essentially charge me the price of several newspapers because I looked at a few articles.

Cost of digital vs physical is way out of whack. There are new books where the Kindle version costs more than the hardcover. (Only 10 cents more, but... so, printing costs are now ZERO?)

InDesign costs $20/month if you buy a year in advance, $21/month if you pay every month, or $32 for a single month. I have seriously considered saving up my publishing projects and renting ID for one or two months a year. (That's the plan if I ever get too frustrated with CS2's version, which is now 13-year-old software.)

I'm also hoping for a nice lawsuit requiring companies to use the word "license" or "rent" instead of "buy now!" when what they're selling is a subscription, not a product.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:14 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Spotify, Hulu, and Scribd appear to be investigating a deal in which consumers can get a joint subscription from these services for a lower rate.

Note that Hulu's ad free tier has so far been conspicuously absent from these offers. Their broadcast content partners remain unhappy it exists IIRC, and I'm pretty sure Hulu's encouraged if not outright required to not market it too aggressively. The ad-supported model is going to take a long time to die, if it does at all.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:58 AM on May 7


The difference is that the New Yorker doesn't come into my apartment and confiscate the pile of back issues on my coffee table if I stop paying them.

Yep. I'd totally be up for a software subscription model where I subscribed for new features and bug fixes, but if I stopped subscribing it'd continue to work until operating system changes overtook it or I got fed up with the existing bugs. That'd probably require an upfront cost or minimum required subscription period, to prevent problems - or maybe the percentage of people who'd try to game the system would be low enough that it wouldn't be worth the effort.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:13 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


I loathe subscription software. I'm on LR6, because it's the last version that doesn't require allowing Adobe to suck money out of my wallet every month. I'll run it as long as I can, and hope that eventually someone else enters that market.

I was using YNAB, and quit when they went subscription-only -- but also partly because their shift to a web app meant I had to trust them with my financial data, too. Um, no.

1Password broke my heart. I'm still on the last non-subscription version, but they make it SUPER SUPER HARD to stay that way, their responders in the forums were really slippery and uncool about it.

The whole trend has pushed me further into preferring FOSS options when I can get them.
posted by uberchet at 3:18 PM on May 7


I'd like to take this opportunity to single out the people who make Parallels. The software that silently installed an "update" that replaced the version I paid for with a trial for a newer version, which was really more or less the same software, except with a new yearly subscription fee attached. Then when it (surprise!) expired and started asking me for money, the "tech support" guy had the slickest patter going where he couldn't tell me I could just reinstall the old version, but he couldn't exactly not tell me that either. This circular argument went on for about 20 minutes until I got tired and said good-bye a couple times. And then hung up because he just kept talking...
posted by lagomorphius at 3:55 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


1Password broke my heart. I'm still on the last non-subscription version, but they make it SUPER SUPER HARD to stay that way, their responders in the forums were really slippery and uncool about it.

Wait, what's up with 1Password? I've used it for years and didn't even know they went to a subscription service. What's the difficulty?
posted by AFABulous at 8:14 PM on May 7




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