Subscribing to a product is peak capitalism
Subscriptions used to be simple: pay a fee, usually annually, and receive a newspaper or magazine each time a new one is published. You received a new edition daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. You paid for the pleasure of reading, for the research, for the skill of the writers, photographers and designers.
Buying a product also used to be simple. You might get a loan or you might buy it outright, but you got something tangible: a software package, a car, a CD, some clothing, a computer… Nowadays, things aren’t so simple.
In the early 2000’s, when I started working as a freelance designer, I bought Adobe’s Creative Suite (CS), which came in a box. As updates came along, I could choose to buy the update or stick with the version I had, and still have, on my computer. As you may know, the physical version of CS hasn’t been available for over a decade, and has been offered on a subscription-only basis since 2013. Microsoft Office is the same.
The problem is, it’s not just software and publications that have wholeheartedly embraced subscription models, as this excellent article on iA points out; it’s spread to bikes, glasses, and even tractors. I’m not trying to suggest that this is a surreptitious way for companies to implement the “you will own nothing, and be happy” plan that has been connected — often conspiratorially so — to the World Economic Forum, although it’s tangentially related in its more prosaic underpinnings: greed and control.
Offering a product on a subscription basis feels like peak capitalism. You can use this for as long as you pay us. Stop paying us and you lose everything. We’re tied to sellers in ways that didn’t exist in the not-too-distant past, and it feels like there’s a groundswell of discontent. A good example is the reMarkable tablet. It’s a lovely looking device that I could see myself using, if only to reduce the number of notebooks I carry and get through. I was seriously considering getting one, and then I noticed that you have to subscribe to their “Connect” service to use it, and I decided not to bother. Apparently, I’m not the only one — a recent thread on Reddit was full of people saying the same thing: I’d like one, but I’m not getting a subscription.
People are tired of having subscriptions for everything, and understanding that companies are doing it in order to shackle us as customers and bleed every last penny out of us. And if that isn’t the case, why can’t they just sell us the product? Even if it’s a digital download rather than having a physical product, why shouldn’t we be able to own what we’ve paid for without having the threat of it being taken away from us if we miss a payment or decide we no longer want to pay?
I’m genuinely curious. For those who support these models, why? Why can’t we have a choice, as the aforementioned iA offers on its apps? Because if we’re not given a choice, it feels like we’re being exploited.