Reasons why I do not like subscription model

I have an article here again after a long hiatus. A couple of days ago, while surfing the net, I came across the Live Podcast, where two reporters from the aforementioned site talk about a possible Windows subscription, or better yet, promote it, until I wonder if it’s actually a paid promotion. By the way, the quality of the podcast is terrible, one of the reporters drifting off into his usual vernacular of filler “like”, “just” and the occasional vulgarity after about 13 minutes.

But back on topic.

I first noticed the subscription model about 5-6 years ago when Zoner switched to it, and from the first moment it seemed like something I wouldn’t like (and at that point I stopped using anything from Zoner too). 5 years have passed, the subscription model is almost everywhere now, and if I’ve changed my opinion, it’s only for the worse. Why? I’ll discuss that in the rest of the article.

Before that though, I would divide subscription models into two groups.

The first group is subscriptions to some product where someone decided it would be nice to suck money from users continuously. Here I would include subscriptions to any software (applications from Zoner, Adobe, Microsoft, or even Midjourney). In this case, I consider subscriptions to be the height of capitalism and trying to get money out of people at any cost, and I honestly don’t see how anyone can accept it (if they have even a little bit of choice).

Then the second group is subscription fees for services/content. It’s all the platforms like Patreon, YouTube and the like where different people create some sort of content (from tutorial videos, to artwork, to shower photos). While I still don’t like the idea of actually paying up front for something I might not even want, it’s at least somewhat understandable. I’m contributing to someone (usually) specific in exchange for using (in modern terms, consuming) the content that person creates over time, which justifies the whole model at least a little bit. And the content is usually of pretty high quality – which is subjective, of course, but just don’t pay the person whose content I don’t like.

Somewhere on the borderline lies all streaming services (HBO, Netflix, Apple TV+…). On the one hand, content has been gradually increasing, albeit of pretty poor quality over the last two(?) years, though that’s pretty subjective – Wednesday was fine. On the other hand, I pay no matter how much I watch, what quality it is… And unlike the previous case, where the money goes to a particular writer, here it’s all poured into a big cauldron that just churns out more and more series in order to please the widest group of people. Sometimes their creations remind me of what Mildred Montag watched at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

Well, now the promised reasons why I don’t like the subscription model.

Reason 1: I’ll pay more in the aggregate (even if they try to tell me otherwise).

A very common argument (especially with apps, including games) is that I’ll actually “pay less”. At the beginning, maybe (who wouldn’t want a cool app for $3.99, right?), but if I want to use an app for years, that $3.99 adds up pretty quickly and I end up paying much, much more than for a one-time license. This is pretty closely related to the second reason:

Reason 2: A hundred times nothing has killed a dude.

Monthly, that $3.99 (less than a hundred in CZK) is certainly a steal for most people. But if I have an equally expensive subscription to an office suite (Office 365), streaming services, premium on the services I use (Twitter, LinkedIn…), contributing to my favorite author/author (YouTube, Patreon, or even OnlyFans ;)), and paying for God forbid the operating system, which was discussed in the introduction on Živě.cz, a hundred becomes a hundred and five. And that’s not so much. The services I use every day are at least 3, Netflix doesn’t cost a hundred, but two or three, and the same with Office. But even if we stick with the “hundred for one thing” model, that’s five hundred: OS, Office, some app, Netflix, and some service. That five hundred comes out of my account every month, which I’m already feeling on my budget. And usually ahead of time, which brings up another point:

Reason 3: Loss of control over what I pay for.

A subscription service is often directly online, or at least needs the latest version of the app to work, along with internet access and logging in with a user account to verify that I have indeed paid and that I am me. Well, when an update comes, it just has to be installed whether I want it or not. Has my favorite functionality disappeared? Too bad. The new interface doesn’t allow me to do half of it and the other half works worse? Too bad. Should I have preferred the previous one? Too bad. Sure, updates can be nice too, but I’d much rather pay a larger sum for a new, completely debugged, redesigned and rethought product once every two or three years than watch every 14 days as one button is moved again and 5 bugs are added because no one had time to debug it properly. I have to either get used to something that no longer works for me or go elsewhere.

But the kind providers have thought of that as well. Subscriptions are virtually impossible to get back and often cannot be cancelled with the so-called “catching up” on the amount already paid. So either I cancel the subscription immediately and lose the few weeks I’ve already subscribed to, or I hope I don’t forget to cancel the payment at the end of the month. And honestly, most of us will forget, the money will be sent and we’ll wait another month, hoping that this time we won’t forget.

Well, what happens if I happen to cancel my subscription on the last day before the new tithe is sent?

Reason 4: I don’t pay? I have nothing.

This is often a problem with “content creator” platforms. If I stop paying my monthly tithe, not only do I not get access to the new content (which is perfectly fine), but I don’t even get access to the old content that came out while I was still paying honestly.

From my perspective, if I pay for something, I should still have access to it. This way, I’m forced to pay even if I’m interested in one particular post from 2015, but I have to pay every month because of it or I lose access. And if I really don’t want to pay much, I can hope that it’s a video, image, or text, for example, and there will be a way to copy the post off the platform. Which of course violates the terms. Sure, someone might argue that I’m paying for access. I also can’t take the Mona Lisa out of the museum just because I paid to see it. But! At the museum, I pay in one lump sum (so it’s the pay to watch model I’m talking about next) and secondly, if the Mona Lisa were digital (which all the content I’m talking about is), it could be copied countless times, which is also why, while I can’t take the original, I can easily set her photo as my phone wallpaper, even if I don’t pay the Louvre every month.

But just so I don’t just dung on subscriptions here, there is one situation where I think this whole model is at least a little bit justified.

When I am able to accept the subscription model?

But there is also one situation where the subscription model I’m willing to swallow. And that situation is when the money is flowing to specific people, like specific artists and other content creators whose content I respect and appreciate. These people are generally responsive to feedback and are not trying to please everyone (or at least a large majority of society) with their content in order to extract what they can from users. These people create content because they enjoy it. And by contributing to it, they will continue to create content.

I’m just as happy to pay twenty (or a hundred) more for a book if I’m buying it from a bookseller who I always have a few words with, and if I need advice, knows his stuff like nobody’s business, rather than save the few bucks and exchange the money for a book at, say, Luxor. Well, but what if it’s a situation where the site has a subscription to, say, Premium articles (hello, Zivě.cz!) and I need one particular article 3 times during the year because I just can’t remember how to remove the cover of the Sonoff socket?

Solution: pay for watch/read/work

If someone wants money from me continuously and once isn’t enough (hard to understand with SW, user SW is mostly a product, not a service, let the producers say what they want, with services like Netflix I understand with gnashing of teeth), then I would be happy to actually pay only for the unit of time/work/content I actually use. I watch TV shows pretty spur of the moment, for example. When a new series comes out, I’ll check it out and then not watch anything for maybe weeks/months. So why can’t I just pay to watch that one show (ideally once and for all, the show probably won’t get an update) if I don’t want more anyway?

Same with various programs. I edit photos and videos a couple of times a year, so I either have to pay for a mostly unused license for a whole year, or go through an “activate-do-what-you-need-cancel” martyr with each batch of edits. Not to mention that in those few months 3 new features have been added, 5 have disappeared and 2 are somewhere else, so I have to learn the software almost from scratch. I’d rather ditch it and use some free online tool that might not be as good, but I can do basic editing in 5 minutes and that’s it.

What can I say in conclusion?

In advance, if anyone has read my complaining article to this point, hats off to you. And I hope it at least gave you something. And what did I really want to say with this article? That I don’t like the way corporations extract money from us at any cost – and even for things we don’t want and/or use. And I’d much rather see a model where we could really only pay for what we use. Maybe someday that will happen…

What about you? Do you prefer to pay every month, do you prefer a one-off payment, or do you think it’s best to pay nothing? Or is there another way to go about it?

Translated with (free version)

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