My first job as a child was delivering the Daily Journal newspaper. A subscription was a few dollars a week and people got a morning paper and on Sunday an expanded paper with coupons. This was the first subscription I knew about. I remember some other delivery services, Milk, Charles Chips, etc. But I didn’t think about subscriptions that much; well, I was a kid.
The first subscription shock was cable television. I remember all the talk about who would pay for something you get for free. At that time, most people got television via rabbit ears. But by 1988 52.4% of US households had cable television, the notion of people willing to pay for a subscription was debunked.
In the mid 80s technology subscriptions started. At any point in time, I had Prodigy, GEnie or CompuServe. These predate the open internet. I think the most popular of these was AOL. Some people I know still have and use their AOL email address. These services gave you access to a walled garden of activities, information, and entertainment. These were all killed due to the open internet and high-speed internet access, which was another subscription service.
Amazon started it streaming service in 2006 and it grew with its Amazon prime. 2007 Netflix, a video DVD subscription company, decided to move to online streaming. Hulu was also announced in 2007, but was not popular until Disney plus, ESPN plus joined it in 2019, and 2018. Some of this growth was helped by Apple allowing apps to charge subscription fees, so now apps and services were given easy access to potential customers.
Why all the history? I started writing this a few months ago but two of my favorite podcasts started to mention it. This Week in Google and The Big Technology podcast last week had stories about what I have been thinking, as it appears after covid many of the blogs, YouTube channels and podcasts are starting to create subscription tiers. It started more during covid where a few musicians I enjoy could not make money touring, so they went to a tipping model, or in some cases a subscription model. WIth the subscription they would give you more access to them, zoom calls, access to private Facebook, Instagram feeds, lessons, etc.
In 2005 I was commuting to NYC and found podcasts to keep me entertained on the hour or so bus ride there and back. There were free, some had advertising in the mix. Every podcast I listen to now has some kind of paid tier, TWIT (Club TWIT), Hidden Brain, Huberman Labs, No Stupid Question, The Big Technology Podcast, Factually etc. If I paid for all it could add up to two hundred dollars a month. This is more than I pay for cable television and internet! Next add artists, including writers, musicians that I would like to support, it could add to close to three hundred dollars a month. This does not include my cell phone subscription to receive the information also. And what about all the ‘app’ subscriptions and things like Peloton etc.
My mind is trying to wrap my head around a few things that are conflicting. First, I do need to manage my expenses, second if I stop paying which services may not exist and third is this the end of advertising supported content. The first is easy, I need to make choices, understand what I spend money on (yes there is a subscription app that will even help you with that) and give myself a budget.
The second two are a bit more problematic. Now I do not think that Netflix, Disney etc. are going to go out of business, but some of the smaller ones may struggle. And lastly, if everything goes behind a paywall, how useful will the internet be? If the better writers and authors want you to pay to see the best content, what is left is going to be ‘lower quality.’ I am going to ignore the fact that search and things like Chat GPT will be useless if everything is behind a paywall. LLM’s like Chat GPT will need a walled garden they have control over to train; this is another post in draft already.
I try to spend my time finding and listening to (or reading) quality content. In my efforts to get better every day it is one of the things I find helps. Some blog posts have been influenced by them, and this one got pushed out faster due to two other podcasts talking about it. If it all goes behind a paywall the ability to grow will be diminished. TWIT and Huberman both have stated their content will always be free which is wonderful, but that does not mean they will be able to survive as a business. I almost wish there were a service where you could just pay $100 a month, get all the content needed and based on what you read or listened to would get a percentage based on some metric. Someone can start that, but I can see we just end up with 2-3 giant cable companies.
Just a note for those who do not know economics. First there are very few creators/influences that make the big bucks. The platforms will push them to make it seem that it is possible. The people making money are the platforms, and a few of the creators. Which is why the subscription would allow them to create quality content. Until a few months ago, I did not pay as much attention to how many I subscribed to. Writing this was supposed to help me pick which ones I should. It did not, in fact I am still torn. Does anyone who read this have some way to pick?
This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free. I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them.
This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog. AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them.