Skip to main content

Subscription Services: What Would Grandma Do?

If I look a little pale, it's because I'm dealing with subscription fatigue.

I was looking over my credit card statement and I was stunned by the number of automatic charges that show up. From podcast hosting to music streaming, it's a litany of subscription services.

I’ve reached Peak Subscriptions, that’s for sure.

Trained in the Dark Arts #

Say what you like about phone companies, but they are the masters of the subscription model. They've elevated it to a high art form.

It makes sense when you think about it. There's nothing better than regular, predictable, monthly cash flow. Sure, customers might leave (we call that 'churn') but even that is predictable over time. Keep adding new customers to replace the customers that leave, offering deep discounts up front if you must (first three months free!) and the machine keeps churning profits.

It's amazing just how profitable subscriptions can be over the long term. Back when I had a land line at home ($25 per month) I got the Message Manager voicemail service add on when it came out. In 1994. For $6.95 per month. When I finally cancelled my landline in 2016, I had paid $1850 so Mom and Dad could leave me a message when I wasn't home.

But as the saying goes, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When I worked at SaskTel, every new service needed to have a subscription component. The problem was that we had so many services that our bills started adding up big time. Between phone, mobile, internet and TV services the total subscription fees could be hundreds of dollars per month.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do #

I don't have my land line any more. Don't have cable TV service. I still have wicked fast internet though (you know, for the podcast) and my cell phone with unlimited data (to, uh, stay connected. Yeah, connected.) And I replaced the cable TV with a much cheaper Netflix subscription.

And yet, all these little subscriptions add up. I'm continually tempted to add more to my subscription mix too. I use a ton of free versions of subscription apps that are working hard to move me to the paid tier.

Here's a rough sampling of my current subscription mix. (* denotes I'm in the paid tier)

  • SaskTel* for internet and cell phone

  • Mailchimp for email newsletters

  • Netflix* for TV/movies

  • TSN Direct* for live sports (only during World Cup)

  • SmugMug* for my photo archives

  • Spotify* for music

  • GSuite* for email / calendar and cloud storage

  • iCloud* for cloud storage

  • Dropbox for cloud storage

  • Office 365* for MS Office apps and cloud storage

    (Note to self: simplify my cloud storage)

  • Siteground* for hosting the backyard bakery site

  • SquareSpace* for hosting

  • Libsyn* to host the podcast

  • Auphonic* for audio processing for the podcast

  • Canva for graphics

  • Zoom for video calls

  • Slack for team chats

Not to mention how I have an on again / off again love affair with the Amazon multiverse: Prime, Audible, Kindle Prime etc.

And then there are the news sites I should be subscribing to: Globe and Mail, the Guardian, New York Times, New Yorker and likely a few more.

This is a partial list, just for my personal life and personal projects. We've got a different set of subscriptions for ProsperCity and I even have one for the Right Company too.

What Would Grandma Do? #

So what's the point here, Marko?

Two points actually.

For the subscription bread bakers: it's a good business model, for sure. You can get the same benefits that the big guys get.

But watch out for subscription fatigue with your customers. A 'no' might not be a response to your bread, but a reaction against adding yet another subscription to the mix.

Also, think hard before you sign up for Venmo or Stripe and start giving them a cut of your revenue. A pencil, ledger pad and cash deposits work in the short term and just might work in the long term too.

And for the rest of us? If you are trying to simplify your life to the essentials, subscriptions can help, up to a point. Too many subscriptions become a burden that you don't want to bear.

You don't need Headspace in order to meditate. You don't need Down Dog to do yoga. You don't need Blue Apron to make dinner. You just need to sit or stretch or cook.

If grandma could do it in her day, we don't need a subscription service to do it now.