By Gene Wilburn
These days it seems as if every vendor of every product has jumped on the “service as subscription” bandwagon. While this might be good for vendors, providing a steadier income stream, it’s reaching a breaking point for customers. Worse, it’s often nothing more than a greedy money grab.
$18/Month to Warm Your Derrière
BMW has recently introduced a monthly subscription fee of $18US a month if you want access to the vehicles’ heated seats. Other car vendors are implementing a monthly subscription fee for remote-start key fobs.
“Earlier this year, Cox Automotive conducted a survey of 217 people who intend to buy a new car over the next two years. Only 25 percent said they’d be willing to pay a monthly or annual fee to unlock a feature in their vehicle. The remaining 75 percent said piss off. [my emphasis]
Well, you might say, luxury car owners can afford subscriptions like seat warmers. Not so fast. GM expects its in-car subscription services on its automotive lines to generate nearly $2-billion this year, which will reach as high as $25-billion by the end of the decade.
Remember, this is beyond the base price you pay for your family automobile, and it’s not just aimed at luxury cars.
How Much Monthly Streaming Services Cost in Canada
The following prices were what I could confirm as Canadian prices. U.S. pricing tends to be slightly lower.
Netflix Canada: $9.99 / $15.49 / 19.99 depending on the plan
Crave: $9.99 for mobile devices, $19.99 for all platform
HBO (ad-free): $19.35
YouTube (ad-free family plan): $17.99
Hulu (ad-free): $11.99
Wondrium: $20.00 (lower with quarterly or annual plans)
Amazon Prime: $9.99
Cable or Fibre Plan: $50 (for basic package)
Depending on how many streaming services you subscribe to, you could be pushing $150 per month. It wasn’t so bad when there was just Netflix, but everyone jumped on the bandwagon, diluting the offerings on each service so that you’d need them all if you are a serious movie and TV buff.
And then there’s software. Adobe has always charged plenty for its software but, in recent years, seems to have found the subscription model more profitable. As a photographer, I purchased its last sales-based package of Photoshop CS6. Unfortunately, CS6 apps no longer run on my current Macs so the only option, if I want to continue to use Photoshop, is to subscribe to it for $9.99/month.
I did for a short while. Photoshop is more polished and better than ever, but is it worth over $100 per year to rent it? I’m not a professional photographer, and, being retired, my budget simply doesn’t stretch that far for a hobby. So I unsubscribed and purchased Affinity Photo outright. It’s a pretty fair substitute, and cost me a one-time $40, on sale.
As a writer, I’ve looked at software such as Ulysses. I use Markdown editors most of the time, and Ulysses is a very nice product, but is it worth $50/year in perpetuity (with probable increases in the subscription price along the way)?
We’re talking Markdown here, an open-source format. Any free Markdown editor does the job nicely, thank you.
Then there’s Microsoft Office. $79.00 per year for the personal edition, and $109.00 per year for one to six people (Canadian pricing). In a misleading sleight of hand, they put a “Buy now” button for the subscription, rather than the more honest “Rent now.”
If you need pure Microsoft, there’s no evading the cost, though the excellent open-source LibreOffice suite is free, as are the Google office modules like Docs and Sheets if you’re a student or a casual user.
It happens at the low end of software too. I’m amazed at the number of iPad utility apps from the App Store that only give you a free trial period, then charge you forever with a monthly subscription fee. Even for a calculator app.
The Bottom Line
No single subscription sounds terribly out of line, but the cumulative cost of subscriptions-as-service is an insidious trend for anyone on a low-to-moderate fixed income.
The bottom line is that many of us simply can’t afford to play this game. Or are unwilling to.
I’m booked solid. I will not rent any more software, streaming services, or automotive services, and I know I’m not alone. We simply can no longer afford it. I’m already deciding which services to drop.
Oh, yeah, what about Medium? I enjoy reading what Medium writers have published so I will probably continue to subscribe. But my loyalty is thin. If the price increases, I’m outa here.
Gene Wilburn is a Canadian writer, photographer, and retired IT specialist.