How long before we realise our music and movie subscriptions aren’t worth it?
On the Record: Spotify and Netflix might be vital now, but they won’t last for ever
Beyoncé: Are you going to keep paying the Tidal sub just to hear Lemonade?
It’s always good to see predictions that have appeared in this column come to pass. A decade or so ago, with music and entertainment in one of their periodic shifts, many of us speculated that the future would be all about subscriptions.
Instead of owning music or movies on discs, or as digital downloads, we’d subscribe to services, we said, adding that we needed to get over our hankering for physical possessions.
Many people were still getting their heads around digital downloads at the time – humans, surprisingly, take a while to get used to new things – so the notion of a move to subscriptions and streaming was viewed as a bit premature. But change came rather more quickly than anyone anticipated. People swapped downloading from iTunes for streaming a lot more quickly than they had moved from physical to digital, in the early 2000s. You can credit technology for this, as well as convenience, simplicity and consumer confidence.
Subscriptions are now the easy way for all of us to get and pay for music, movies and many other parts of our lives. Look at your bank statements: you may have 10 or more subs going out of your account each month.
From Spotify and Netflix to publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, Dublin Inquirer and The Irish Times, subscriptions have become an essential part of our monthly spend. They used to be just for big services, such as Sky or Virgin Media, but they’re now common currency.
This is good news for the businesses, as subscriptions let them more accurately forecast how much cash will come in each quarter. And subscribers hang around, as they don’t view each monthly payment as a huge outgoing.
Getting all the love and all the cash in 2017 doesn’t mean you’ll still be getting them in 2022 or 2027
But how long will subscriptions be all the rage for? The past 20 years has taught us that change is a permanent part of all businesses. Getting all the love and all the cash in 2017 doesn’t mean you’ll still be getting them in 2022 or 2027.
This is especially true of subscriptions: there will come a time when consumers say, “Hang on a minute, lads.” They’ll tot up their entertainment outgoings each month and realise they’re paying a pretty penny for stuff that just ends up on their to-watch and to-listen-to lists.
They’ll also cop, as they did when the CD was the format of choice, that they’re paying an awful lot just to get a little. If you want only one or two songs, do you need to shell out for a monthly subscription? Are you going to keep paying the Tidal sub just to hear Beyoncé’s Lemonade?
And what if we just decide that we prefer the physical objects again, as with the renewed interest in vinyl records?
The subscription model will be eventually eclipsed. The trick is to see the change coming.