ON THE RECORD

How long be­fore we re­alise our mu­sic and movie sub­scrip­tions aren’t worth it?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - | FILM - JIM CAR­ROLL

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

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.

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.

Are you go­ing to keep pay­ing Tidal just to hear Bey­oncé?

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